I said last week that anti-hunger advocates were unhappy with the Senate’s Farm Bill because it cut food stamp benefits for some half a million households.
Truth, but not the whole truth.
The Food Research and Action Center, for example, expresses disappointment in the benefits cut, but also commends the Senate for preserving the structure of the food stamp program and rejecting amendments “that would have crippled” it.
Feeding America’s CEO strikes a similar note, referring to amendments that would have imposed “deeper cuts and harmful structural changes.”
These are good reminders that the Farm Bill could have been a whole lot worse for the millions of low-income people who’d go hungry if they didn’t have food stamps.
The absolute worst amendment, offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), would have converted the food stamp program to a block grant funded at just over half the projected costs for the upcoming fiscal year.
Not only that. Unlike the block grant proposal in the House budget plan, it would have frozen federal funding at the initial level. No adjustment whatever for the inevitable rise in food prices — let alone any caseload increase.
And just to make sure that some folks went hungry, the Rand amendment would also have eliminated two programs that supply free food commodities for needy populations — TEFAP (the Emergency Food Assistance Program) and a food distribution program specifically for Indian reservations.
An amendment by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would have denied food stamp benefits to households unless every member produced one of a limited number of documents proving citizenship or legal residency.
One might think, at first glance, that the amendment would keep undocumented immigrants out of the food stamp program. Not so. They’re already ineligible.
The amendment instead would have tossed out of the program children who were born in this country, but live in households where some member — not necessarily related to them in any way — is unauthorized to be here.
Also tossed out citizens, mostly elderly, who don’t have birth certificates — or do but can’t present a copy that’s legally valid.
Another Sessions amendment would have drastically restricted what’s known as categorical eligibility — a streamlined process that automatically qualifies households for food stamps if they receive benefits from their state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Low-income families that receive non-cash benefits, e.g., child care subsidies, would have had to go through a whole separate applications process, with all the paperwork, calculations and waiting time that entails.
And 280,000 children wouldn’t have gotten free school meals any more because they’re automatically eligible only so long as their families receive food stamp benefits.
Bipartisan majorities — some a lot more bipartisan than others — kept the food stamp program safe from these measures.
Now action shifts to the House.
Some doubt it will produce a Farm Bill this year because the Republican leadership will have a hard time rounding up a majority for such a big, complex bill. Recall the debt ceiling cliffhanger last summer?
We’ll nevertheless probably see what the House Agriculture Committee majority has in mind quite soon. Don’t be surprised to see some of those defeated Senate amendments resurface.