(MintPress) – A decision by the United States Senate to cut $4.5 billion worth of funding to food stamp aid will result in millions of Americans, including those who are elderly, disabled, veterans, active duty service members and those living in low-income households, without money to purchase food to feed their families. While the proposal […]
(MintPress) – A decision by the United States Senate to cut $4.5 billion worth of funding to food stamp aid will result in millions of Americans, including those who are elderly, disabled, veterans, active duty service members and those living in low-income households, without money to purchase food to feed their families. While the proposal to make cuts to the food stamp program has passed in the Senate, the overall farm bill, which the proposal is a part of, has yet to be finalized.
Government officials fighting the cuts say that taking the money away from the program will result in a $90 a month decrease of food aid to nearly half a million people, which will deeply affect the amount of food that recipients will be able to purchase. The cut, part of the larger 1,000-page U.S. farm bill, will become part of food and agriculture policy for the next five years if passed.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed to preserve the billions of dollars in food aid by amending the amount of money paid to insurance companies to subsidize the costs of offering crop insurance to farmers.
Last year, the U.S. government paid insurance companies $1.3 billion in order to subsidize farm crops. In Gillibrand’s amendment, that number would go down in order to offset the cuts to the food stamp program.
SNAP, helping Americans eat
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, helps feed more than 46 million people each month, according to its website, up from 26 million in 2007. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the demand for the food stamp program is expected to increase through 2014.
“Half of the food stamp beneficiaries are children, 17 percent are seniors, and unfortunately now 1.5 million households are veteran households that are receiving food stamps,” Gillibrand said Tuesday.
SNAP is the government’s second largest federal welfare program, with Medicaid coming in first.
According to the Agriculture Department, the food aid program is credited with keeping about 5 million Americans out of poverty each year. While in the past, the program gave people paper stamps or coupons to pay for food, debit-type cards are now used in order to allow eligible participants to authorize moving the money they receive from federal accounts to retailer accounts.
Food stamps and veterans
A survey by the Agriculture Department found that about 1,000 military members were receiving food stamps in 2010.
Additionally, according to a Huffington Post data review, more than $100 million in federal food aid has been used over the past year on military bases.
Huffington Post’s Michael McAuliff writes, “The Defense Department argues that if housing allowances are included in pay, most service members don’t qualify for food aid. However, a benefits consulting company called BeneStream.com, which studied the issue in 2009, estimated then that 130,000 service members actually would be eligible for the help.”
Members of the armed services, including veterans and active duty members, are one of the largest growing populations receiving assistance from the food stamp program. Without the funds, many of these individuals and families constantly struggle to purchase food.
“We know from our sources in the military that they’re seeing a hell of a lot more families in the low pay grades than they used to, and that’s where they’re seeing a lot of stress issues,” Ben Geyerhahn of BeneStream recently told the Huffington Post. “We know that for military families, the top two stressors are, No. 1, the death of a family member, but No. 2 is financial.”
Even more alarming is that the base pay for most individuals who have recently enlisted in the armed services is at or below the poverty rate. However, the military includes housing allowances, tax advantages and bonuses when calculating its pay, estimating that an average junior enlisted member earns close to double that at $43,000.
Data from the Census Bureau suggests that 1.5 million households with a veteran in the United States were receiving benefits from the food aid program.
In 14 states in the country, the government is attempting to aid those in low-income households even more by providing a service that offers to help pay for eligible participants’ utility bills.
The move, deemed the heat-and-eat initiative, automatically qualifies families to receive more food aid if they receive government help to pay their utility bills.
While Gillibrand argued that this is an important program for low-income, elderly and disabled households receiving food aid, 22 of her fellow Democrats voted to cut the food stamp program. The reasoning behind the move was fueled by the controversy of abuse within the program.
Debbie Stabenow, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a Huffington Post article, “Here’s what’s going on: In a handful of states, they found a way to increase the SNAP benefits for people in their states by sending $1 checks in heating assistance to everyone who gets food assistance.”
While she agreed that aiding those who need the help to pay for heating is beneficial, some states have gone too far, not only costing the government more, but also hurting the reputation of the initiative.
“Sending out $1 checks to everyone isn’t the intent of Congress,” Stabenow said. “For the small number of states that are doing that, it is undermining the integrity of the program in my judgment. This is about accountability and integrity,” she said.
While the Senate plans to cut $4.5 billion in food aid, the House has proposed to cut the budget even further over the next 10 years. In the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the farm bill, $33 billion would be withdrawn from the program, part of a total $134 billion budget cut.
Though the Senate’s farm bill is expected to pass later this week, the House and Senate will engage in negotiations over the proposals later this year.