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Ear to the Ground

More Hunger and Pain When Congress Comes Back

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Posted on Dec 26, 2013
Ed Yourdon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A homeless man sits on Broadway between 79th and 80th St. in Manhattan.

After allowing food stamp benefits included in the 2009 economic stimulus plan to expire in November, Congress is preparing to make another round of cuts to nutrition aid in January.

The relevant farm bill before the House of Representatives, referenced by The New York Times, would increase crop insurance subsidies to farmers and eliminate more than $8 billion in food stamp benefits for the poor over the next 10 years. The Times did not say whether the subsidy would primarily benefit corporate agriculture or small scale farmers.

The Times’ Editorial Board reports:

That cut, about double the one contained in the Senate version of the farm bill, is more modest than the devastating $40 billion reduction in the farm bill passed by House Republicans that would have denied benefits to about 3.8 million people in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The House bill would also impose drug-testing, work requirements and other conditions, which are not expected to be included in the compromise bill. Still, the compromise deal, driven by the Republican obsession with cutting the food stamps program, will leave many Americans worse off than before.

The deal being finalized would not kick people off the rolls, but it would end a practice used in some 16 states to boost food stamp benefits. That change would reduce benefits for 850,000 of the nation’s poorest households, according the Congressional Budget Office, with the cut falling particularly hard on seniors, disabled people and working-poor families with children.

The households affected currently receive higher food stamp benefits (on average around $90 a month) under a practice known as “heat-and-eat,” which is intended to prevent poor families from having to choose between heating fuel and food. States employing this practice trigger the increased food assistance by providing selected households a nominal amount of fuel aid (as little as $1 per year), regardless of whether they actually pay utility bills.

The board suggests that the best solution would involve devoting savings and other new financing to ensure the basic food needs of the poorest families are met.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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