By a vote of 217-210, the House voted Thursday (Sept. 19) to cut nearly $4 billion each year, and $39 billion over the next decade, from the country’s food stamp program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The vote was separate from the farm bill the House passed earlier this year, which is currently waiting on Senate action. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
The Republican plan, H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, cuts almost twice as much from food stamps than the bill House members rejected back in June. The bill failed to garner support from a single Democrat, and 15 Republicans broke rank to vote against the legislation as well.
Each of Arkansas’ four members of the House, Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack, and Tom Cotton – all of which are Republican – voted in favor of H.R. 3102. Cotton, the most outspoken of the four on this issue, says he is “pleased” by the bill’s passage.
“This reform bill makes several changes to food-stamp eligibility rules that will save billions of dollars, encourage work and personal responsibility, and ensure those most in need receive the aid they need,” said Cotton in a press release on Thursday. “Most important, it imposes work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. It also eliminates, for example, the outrageous policy of paying bonuses to state governments that enroll more people in food stamps.”
According to the Department of Agriculture, since 2001, the SNAP program has gone from serving 17 million people at a cost of just over $15 billion to 47.8 million people at an annual cost of $75 billion.
“Also, for the first time in generations, the food-stamp program isn’t tied needlessly to farm programs,” added Cotton.
H.R. 3102, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, if passed by the Senate, would eliminate benefits for 3 million of the 47.8 million Americans enrolled in the program, while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut.
Democrats, who say they aren’t opposed to some cuts, argue the extreme stance of this bill will hit the poor hard. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said Thursday that the vote by House Republicans was “shameful.”
“The Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation,” said Reid.
Arkansas Democrats, who claim that 1 in 4 residents in Cotton’s home county of Yell received SNAP benefits in 2012, attacked the freshman representative and U.S. Senate candidate in a press release soon after Thursday’s vote.
“Cotton is taking it upon himself to clear the plates from our kitchen tables, when we should be fighting hunger among our children and passing a Farm Bill that works for Arkansas farmers and families alike,” said Candace Martin, Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Congressman Tim Griffin defended that notion in a press release of his own Thursday – even using former President Bill Clinton to get his message across.
“The unprecedented expansion of welfare eligibility by the Obama Administration has discouraged work and encouraged waste, fraud and abuse,” said Griffin. “As we learned from President Clinton’s successful 1996 welfare reforms, modest work requirements combined with support for working parents can help reduce poverty and improve communities. I am proud to support this bill, which saves taxpayers nearly $40 billion by reinstating those successful reforms and preserves the safety net for those who truly need it.”
On Wednesday, the White House threatened to veto the bill, calling food stamps one of the “nation’s strongest defenses against hunger and poverty.”
If Congress fails to pass a bill, the food stamp program would continue as it is under current law, with no cuts.