Liberals vow to back state aid, but restore food-stamp funding

Liberal Democrats said they will vote for a $26.1 billion state aid bill when the House reconvenes this week but are committed to restoring the food-stamps program funding that is being used to pay for it.

The jobs measure, which passed the Senate on Thursday, includes $10 billion for states and local governments to help them stave off teacher cutbacks, and another $16.1 billion to help states with their Medicaid obligations.

Nearly half of the state aid bill's cost is being offset by taking $12 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name for the food-stamps program. The bill finds those savings by ending in 2014 a stimulus program that has increased food-stamp levels.

While House Democrats say they'll support the jobs measure, liberal members said they're doing so over qualms about using funds that would otherwise go to people who need the help.

"This is a bitter pill to swallow," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement to The Hill. "I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year.

"But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid draconian cuts to essential services for low income families," she added. "As you can imagine, for me personally, it’s like ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ "

DeLauro oversees annual spending on the food-stamps program as chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee for agriculture. Asked if she would try to restore the food-stamps money in future legislation, DeLauro said, "Yes, absolutely, I will be fighting for these funds."

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have similar concerns. 

"But the good news is that there is time to fix it," said Michael Mershon, a spokesman for Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.). "And he is considering legislation to restore the cuts while finding another offset."

House Democratic leaders had resisted earlier suggestions by the Obama administration to redirect food-stamp money to the jobs bill. The White House had noted that the 13.6 percent stimulus increase in food stamps was initially designed to last until 2014. It was going to last until 2018 because of unexpectedly low food prices during the recession.

"Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get," House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said in a Fiscal Times interview last month. 

"Well, isn’t that nice," Obey said. "Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change."

Obey has yet to weigh in on the Senate jobs bill. He ushered a similar bill through the House last month that was paid for partly with cuts to stimulus programs. Senate Democrats and the White House rejected those cuts because they would have affected President Obama's education reform efforts.

Senate Democrats, who had struggled for weeks to win the necessary Republican votes for the jobs bill, dismissed any suggestion that they were cutting food-stamp money.

"The bigger point is that there was a bump in food stamps that was given in the economic recovery package that will be there in 2014," said Regan LaChapelle, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The bill, which passed in the Senate with just two GOP votes, could save about 300,000 jobs at a time when the unemployment rate has been stuck at 9.5 percent for two months, Democrats have argued.