December 18, 2014

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House passes farm bill that cuts out food stamps

As executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, Juliana Chase Morefield has closely followed the fight over the farm bill in the House of Representatives.

Nonetheless, Chase-Morefield said she was shocked when House Republicans on Thursday cut the food stamp program from the bill to get it passed.

The $80 billion annual program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, had comprised about 80 percent of spending in the House’s version of the bill.

The bill was defeated last month partially because of House Republicans, who have the majority, wanting deeper cuts than the $21 billion planned over 10 years.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, has previously proposed cutting $134 billion over 10 years.

Since the Great Recession in 2007, food stamp use has reached record numbers. In April, 47.5 million Americans were using food stamps, according to the Department of Agriculture, which runs the program.

About 1.8 million Ohioans, including about 42,000 in Lorain County, use food stamps.

Chase Morefield said when their food stamps run out before the end of the month, poor people turn to food pantries, which have already been overwhelmed by growing hunger in America.

Chase Morefield said Second Harvest, which serves 64 food pantries in Lorain County in addition to 44 pantries in Crawford, Erie and Huron counties, will be devastated by food stamp cuts. She said food stamps cover a maximum of $130 worth of food per month, and cuts could make some people go hungry.

“This isn’t somebody else somewhere else,” she said. “These are people who utilize this to help feed their kids (or) senior citizens who are putting food on their table.”

Republicans faced significant opposition to the plan from Democrats, farm groups and conservative groups that threatened to use the vote against GOP members in future campaigns.

Only 12 Republicans voted against the new measure and no Democrats voted for it.

Republicans said the food stamp part of the legislation would be dealt with separately at a later date, and Cantor said after the vote that Republicans would “act with dispatch” to get that legislation to the floor. President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the House bill if it reached his desk.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a farm bill last month with only a half-percent cut to food stamps and would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs. After House passage, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called the bill “an insult to rural America.”

Chase Morefield said Republican tactics are “very partisan” and would hurt poor people trying to rebound from the recession and tepid recovery. U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, who voted for the bill, disagreed.

Gibbs said money for advertising and workers to run the program would be cut as well as no longer allowing people receiving heating assistance to automatically get food stamps. “I just want to make sure the people who need it are getting it,” he said.

Gibbs, who said he was getting off a plane when reached by The Chronicle-Telegram, also said there was fraud in the program, but was unable to cite any fraud statistics or the sources of the fraud reports at the time of the call. Gibbs said the program was growing too much in recent years, but conceded growth was largely tied to the high unemployment rate which was 7.6 percent nationally in May.

Gibbs accused Democrats of a “charade” for saying food stamp cuts will make poor people go hungry.

However, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, whose district includes Lorain, said it was a legitimate concern. In an email statement, Kaptur said the bill is, “literally taking food out of the mouths of babes and children, and their grandparents. Who could be proud of this?”

Chronicle reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.