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AFP Applauds the House for Food Stamp Reform

September 20, 2013 J

By Christine Harbin Hanson

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a food stamp-only bill. The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (H.R. 3102) would save nearly $40 billion by making important structural changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Food stamp spending has grown dramatically over the last decade, and the House-passed bill makes important changes to rein in this growth.  Conferees should ensure that these changes, particularly splitting the farm programs and food programs, are made permanent.

The legislation passed narrowly, with a 217-210 vote. Consistent with their opposition to the food stamp cuts in June’s Farm Bill, no Democrats voted in support of the legislation. Fifteen Republican voted against final passage.  AFP urged a YES vote on H.R. 3102, and we will include this vote in our congressional scorecard.

This bill is not perfect nor is it a final solution, but it is a very strong step toward reforming the nation’s food stamp programs. As we stated in our key vote alert on the bill, this legislation will allow the federal government to provide a safety net for struggling Americans while ensuring safeguards for taxpayers. The most significant change is that it effectively splits food stamp program from farm programs and shifting the authorization schedule from 5 years to 3 years. If enacted, this would put SNAP and farm programs on completely different timelines, thus securing the split moving forward

These parts don’t belong together and deserve separate treatment in standalone legislation. As AFP Director of Policy James Valvo wrote in March, “This approach is long overdue and would start the fundamental reform process that is necessary for both components of the notorious five-year spending bill.” If conferees re-combine the titles in their conference report, the nation will be locked into at least another five years of bloated Farm Bill policy.

The food stamp includes additional important changes, too, such as restricting automatic enrollment at the state level (called, “categorical eligibility”) and reinstating income and asset tests. These allow states to sweep more people into the program, and they are a significant reason why food stamp spending has seen such growth over recent history.

Unfortunately, the upper chamber of Congress doesn’t seem to show much support for the changes. The Farm Bill that the Senate passed back in May leaves food stamp spending largely intact. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, who is an appointed conferee and sponsor of the Senate-passed Farm Bill, has signaled opposition to these changes. She recently remarked that the House-passed bill “will never see the light of day in the Senate.”

This is the latest episode in the saga of the Farm Bill, which AFP has followed closely over the past year and half. In January, Congress included a nine-month Farm Bill extension in the fiscal cliff at the 11th hour. AFP urged a NO in a key vote alert for this legislation, for this reason and many others. In May, the Senate approved the 2013 Farm Bill (S. 954) with a 66-27 vote. AFP issued a key vote alert, urging Senators to vote NO; we also issued a key vote alert on important Senate amendments. In June, the House of Representatives rejected its full, five-year version of the Farm Bill with a 195-234 vote. AFP issued a key vote alert against this bill, too. We also released two great videos (here and here). In July, the House passed a “farm-only Farm Bill” with a 216-208 vote. This version included farm programs but not food stamp programs—and it failed to make substantive reforms.

Although AFP would have liked to see some additional changes included in this recent food stamp legislation, such as Rep. Huelskamp’s proposal to turn SNAP into a block grant for states, we applaud the House for making these reforms and call on Congress to include them in any future conference report on the Farm Bill.

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