Sessions says food stamp cuts, reforms not enough in farm bill

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on Monday argued that the farm bill the Senate is set to pass Tuesday doesn't go far enough in cutting food stamps, and said Congress needs to continue to seek reforms to the program.

"I remain concerned that the reforms to the SNAP program, the food stamp program, are much too modest," he said on the Senate floor. "It seems clear to me that the bill before us today regrettably does not go nearly as far as it could in addressing the abuses and the wastefulness that are contained in those programs."

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The House-Senate conference report cuts a little more than $8 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), informally called the food stamp program. That's well below the $39 billion cut proposed by House Republicans.

The $8 billion cut amounts to a 1 percent cut to food stamps over 10 years — the program will still spend about $756 billion over that time.

The original House bill included language that would have prohibited states from waiving a requirement that able-bodied adults must work or participate in a job training program in order to receive extended benefits. But that language, which accounted for about half of the House's proposed cut, was jettisoned in the final House-Senate compromise.

The final bill does require families to receive slightly more in home heating aid each year ($20 instead of $1) before they automatically qualify for food stamps. Sessions said this is a start, but said more needs to be done to ensure

"There are a great number of abuses in the program that have clearly been identified, and should be fixed, and haven't sufficiently been fixed," he said.

Sessions also argued that farm programs are being subjected a disproportionate cut, compared to the SNAP program. He said SNAP makes up about 80 percent of the bill, and commodity programs make up the rest, but that each piece of the bill was cut about $8 billion.

"That sounds fair, balanced," he said. "But you're cutting $8 billion from the 20 percent of the program, and the other $8 billion from the 80 percent of the program, and that's not balanced."

Sessions was followed on the floor by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who said he wished the bill contained no SNAP cuts at all.

"I'm disappointed the bill includes any cuts to food assistance," he said. "I am fed up of hearing members… say 'oh we can't afford to feed these children.'

"These are the same members who voted twice to go to war with a blank check," Leahy added. "Come on, feeding those hungry children is an investment in this nation and its children."

The House vote split both parties last week, and most Democrats rejected the bill because of the SNAP cuts.