Republicans seek cuts to food stamp program with new farm bill
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the Agriculture Committee, said the Paul amendment was "outrageous and would go completely against the commitment we as a country have made to help those who truly need it."
She said the bill already takes steps to eliminate abuses in the system, such as barring lottery winners from receiving benefits, ending misuse by college students, cracking down on benefit trafficking and preventing liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits. It also targets a practice of some 16 states of giving as little as $1 to individuals in home heating assistance so that they can qualify for additional food stamp benefits.
In an agreement reached by the two parties late Monday on what amendments to the farm bill will be allowed, Sessions will get a vote on amendments that target efforts by states to get as large a share of federal food stamp aid as possible. None of the changes, he said, would result in people going hungry.
One was similar to an amendment Sessions proposed that would save nearly $1 billion a year by stopping the practice of 14 states and the District of Columbia providing people with as little as $1 a year in home heating assistance even if they don't have a heating bill so they can automatically qualify them for greater food stamp benefits of up to $100 a month.
Another $1.1 billion a year, he says, could be saved by assuring that recipients don't have assets exceeding federal eligibility limits.
The Congressional Research Service says 40 states plus Guam and the Virgin Islands use what is called "broad-based categorical eligibility" to let people who exceed federal asset limits on eligibility collect food stamps if they're getting some other federal benefit, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
This year, for example, households with liquid assets above $2,000 could not qualify for food stamps. The limit is $3,250 if the household includes an elderly or disabled person. The value of a home, retirement and education savings and up to $4,650 of the fair market value of a household's motor vehicles are excluded from the assets test.
Sessions also would end a program of bonus payments for states that increase registration for food stamp benefits and require the government to verify that recipients are in the country legally.
The House is waiting to see what the Senate will do on the farm bill before acting, but Republicans there already have made it clear that food stamps are fair game as lawmakers look for ways to cut government deficits.
The House Republican budget introduced earlier this year would reduce food stamp spending by an average $13.3 billion a year over the coming decade and turn the program into block grants for the states. And in May, the House Agriculture Committee approved an average $3.3 billion annual cut in food stamp benefits as part of a GOP proposal to avert automatic cuts in defense spending to go into effect next year. Both those proposals are going nowhere in the Senate.
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