While everyone is fixated on the House’s obsessive focus on Obamacare and how it could lead to a government shutdown, the tea party-driven House last week also mounted an assault on a key program aiding the nation’s poor: food stamps.

The House voted essentially along party lines to cut the country’s food stamp program by $40 billion over the next decade, and strip benefits from childless adults ages 18 to 50 who can’t find work or aren’t enrolled in a work-training program — at a time when the nation’s official unemployment rate is 7.3 percent. And the measure would limit the working poor or those enrolled in training classes to three months of aid. The notion seems to be that people are avoiding work to get free food, an odd intrusion of baseless conspiracy theory finding its way into the legislative process.

“This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation’s welfare programs,” according to House Speaker John Boehner, though the legislation says nothing about creating jobs. It would, however, require drug tests for recipients, a rider that notably was not included in any of the government’s banking bailout efforts.

So who are the poor relying on food stamps — the program is now called SNAP — for daily sustenance? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, they are the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. The organization’s president, Robert Greenstein, described the vote as “a new low for an already dysfunctional Congress” that would in effect kick starving Americans while they’re down.

By cutting food assistance for at least 3.8 million low-income people in the coming year — including some of the very poorest Americans, many children and senior citizens, and even veterans — this cruel, if not heartless, legislation could jeopardize a vital stepping stone to many families who are still struggling to find work or who depend on low-wage jobs. As the nation slowly climbs out of the deepest recession in decades — with 22 million people still unemployed or underemployed — millions of families rely on SNAP to help feed their children.

SNAP recipients already are preparing for an across-the-board cut in their SNAP benefits beginning in November that will reduce their modest benefits to less than $1.40 per person per meal.

The good news: It is highly unlikely the bill will pass the Senate, and, even if it does, President Obama is expected to veto it. And there aren’t enough heartless members in the House to override his rejection. But that also means the program faces the same kind of uncertainty as countless other ones as the tea party grip on Congress stalls the legislative process.

The New York Times, citing the Congressional Budget Office, reports that if the cuts were to occur, nearly 4 million people would lose their food stamps next year, and about 3 million more would lose their benefits each year after that.

The budget office said that, left unchanged, the number of food stamp recipients would decline by about 14 million people — or 30 percent — over the next 10 years as the economy improves. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. The census data also showed nearly 47 million people living in poverty — close to the highest level in two decades.

Instead of stealing away their food bowls, the House should look instead at finding ways to get people jobs.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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