In a close vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a Republican-backed plan to cut food stamps by $40 billion over the next decade, which supporters say will bring sustainability to the program while saving the taxpayer’s money.
Lawmakers approved the proposal by a 217-210 vote on Thursday with 15 GOP members joining the entire Democratic caucus who voted against the bill.
The cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are nearly double as much as an earlier measure rejected by the House in June.
But supporters of the assistance program argue this could have a disproportionate impact on poorer states like Kentucky, where one out of six households report facing serious problems affording nutritious food.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food stamps benefits go to around 820,000 Kentuckians per month. In the final tally, all but one of Kentucky’s six representatives voted for the cuts.
“Today’s House vote to strip nearly $40 billion from federal food assistance programs directly threatens the health and financial security of the more than 44,000 Louisville families who depend on these programs to put food on their tables,” says Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth, who voted against the bill. “These cuts would also needlessly weaken our economy, as every $5 spent on food assistance generates $9 in local economic activity.”
But GOP lawmakers who favored the proposal drafted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, highlight the rise of food stamp recipients in the past five years as a need to bring solvency to the program. The argue it simply restores eligibility limits to their original levels, and maintains funding for food assistance in other areas.
Republican Congressman Andy Barr represents central Kentucky. He says the bill brings needed fiscal responsibility to a federal program that the freshman lawmakers argues has grown to “unsustainable levels.”
“These common sense reforms to our food stamp program will achieve nearly $40 billion in savings, while increasing funding for food banks,” he says. “The bill will provide a full $725 billion in food assistance to families and children in need over the next ten years. This legislation is the most compassionate policy because it encourages people who are capable of work to move from dependency to self-sufficiency.”
In Barr’s district, 72 percent of households receiving food stamp benefits have 1 or more individuals who have been employed for at least the past year. Those figures also find that 61 percent who receive federal assistance live below the poverty line and 55 percent are under the age of 18.
The same USDA report shows the highest percentage of SNAP recipients in the state are in House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers’s district covering most of Eastern Kentucky.
Just over 26 percent of households in that district rely on food stamps and though Rogers had voiced he was “undecided” on cuts, he ultimately voted for the proposal.
The food stamp debate has been one of the more visceral clashes in Congress. It is likely to come up again as the bill heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate where it is faces little chances of success and is expected to be negotiated in a House-Senate conference committee.
In the meantime, food policy advocates are scolding Kentucky’s five Republican congressmen who voted for the measure.
“This vote sends a devastating message that our poorest and most vulnerable citizens will pay a price that no American family should have to experience: hunger,” says Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “These Congressmen voted in favor of a controversial, extreme and stunningly harsh measure that cuts a staggering $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
To read the USDA report of food stamp usage in Kentucky based on congressional district, go here.