By Ramsey Cox
S. 954 would cut more than $23 billion from current spending levels over 10 years, including $4 billion-worth of cuts in food stamps, which has led to some Democratic opposition.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment, which would have restored the $4 billion in cuts to food stamps. Her amendment failed on a 26-70 vote, shortly after Roberts'. Gillibrand said during a recession, Congress should not be cutting food assistance.
“As a lawmaker and mother, watching a child, a senior, a veteran go hungry is something I will not stand for and neither should anyone else in this body,” Gillibrand said on Tuesday. “If you believe that feeding hungry children is the right thing to do, then stand with us. … Let’s keep food on the tables of people who need it.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) urged senators to vote against both amendments. She said that the committee’s $4 billion cuts addressed only “waste, fraud and abuse” within the food stamp program.
“Every family that currently qualifies for nutrition assistance in this country continues to get that assistance,” Stabenow said of the food stamp changes in the farm bill. “We do make sure there is integrity in the programs.”
Stabenow also pointed out that the $4 billion in saving from food stamp reductions offset a much-needed increase in the crop insurance protections for farmers.
Roberts said more cuts were needed to bring the Senate bill closer inline with the House farm bill, which cuts more than $20 billion in food stamps.
“We can restore integrity to the SNAP program while still providing the benefits of those who truly need it,” Roberts said. “I am not proposing a dramatic change in food assistance programs.”
Roberts said his amendment would have saved $12 billion by ending a loophole that some states use to automatically enroll people who received assistance on their energy bills under LIHEAP into the food stamp program without evaluating household assets. He said his bill would have saved even more because it also would have eliminated “duplicative training and enrollment programs” under TANIF and stopped “awards for state agencies for basically doing their job” by enrolling people in food assistance programs.
The House has a $940 billion farm bill that cuts spending by $39.7 billion over 10 years — $20.5 billion are cuts to food stamps. The House bill likely won’t get a floor vote until June.
The White House has said it supports the Senate farm bill.
This article was updated at 5 p.m. to include the vote on Gillibrand's amendment.