Dems press Boehner on food stamps

House Democrats are pressing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to back a robust food stamp program or risk a spike in hunger nationwide.

The Democrats characterize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as “our country’s most critical anti-hunger program,” and are calling on GOP leaders to scrap plans to cut funding by tens of billions of dollars in a letter sent to Boehner on Monday that was signed by every member of the caucus.

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“We strongly believe in the critical importance of SNAP,” said the letter, which was spearheaded by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.). “Given the essential nature of this program to millions of American families, the final language of the Farm Bill or any other legislation related to SNAP must be crafted to ensure that we do not increase hunger in America.”

Farm bills have traditionally included funding for food stamp programs, but GOP leaders broke from that precedent earlier this year.

After their farm bill suffered an embarrassing defeat on the House floor — partly because GOP conservatives thought its $20 billion reduction in food stamp funding was too small — GOP leaders moved a farm bill that included no funding for food stamps.

Republicans are now crafting a separate SNAP bill designed to attract those conservative detractors by doubling the SNAP cut to roughly $40 billion over the next 10 years. 

The Senate in June passed its version of the farm bill, including a $4.1 billion food stamp cut over the next decade. The measure passed with a bipartisan vote of 66-27.

Lawmakers are running out of time to find a solution. If Congress does not act before Oct. 1, when the current farm bill expires, America's farm policy would revert to that established 64 years ago.

Behind House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Republicans say their reworked proposal, which will restrict eligibility and install new work requirements, would rein in abuse of the SNAP program, ensuring that beneficiaries are not taking undue advantage of the taxpayers' largesse.

Cantor's office has said the bill contains "common sense" changes "that enjoy a broad range of support."

The two-pronged strategy, however, has turned a historically bipartisan effort into a very factional fight. No Democrats voted for the Republican farm bill last month, citing the absence of SNAP funding, and none are expected to back a $40 billion SNAP cut when Congress returns next month.

The dynamics have left the fate of the farm bill in doubt, as a number of Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, have warned that a SNAP cut of that size could make a compromise with the Senate impossible.

“Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year,” Peterson said earlier this month.

Pelosi was quick to endorse the DeLauro-McGovern effort, saying it “issues a clarion call to Republican leaders to preserve and advance the health, economic certainty, and food security of millions of American families.”

“As too many children and seniors go to bed hungry each night — without knowing where they will get their meals the next day — it is our responsibility to enact a Farm Bill that restores essential nutrition initiatives for nearly 50 million Americans,” Pelosi said in a statement.

This story was updated at 1:38 p.m.