According to a report from the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the GOP is gearing up to tear apart this country’s food stamp program.
Starting this February 25, the House Agriculture Committee is planning to hold the first of several hearings to discuss the Republican’s plan.
From the WSJ:
Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Texas), who is leading the charge, said he wants to stay away from the type of party politics that can doom reforms before they are proposed. But as the son of a roughneck on oil rigs, he said he favors the kind of hard work that “built America,” suggesting any changes will lead to a smaller program and fewer recipients.
“A family that depends on their own work is more secure,” Conaway said. “There’s a dignity in taking care of yourself.”
Over 46 million people receive benefits from the program, which is double the amount that did ten years ago. In that time, the costs have tripled, going from $27 billion in 2004 to $74 billion in 2014.
One tactic Republicans are focusing on is “tighter eligibility requirements.”
“The program was structured when malnutrition was a real problem,” said Douglas Besharov, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. “It has now become a form of income support.”
The program dates back to the 1930s, when unemployment was high, and was made permanent in 1964.
States, which manage the Agriculture Department program, are already starting to cut back. More than 20 are preparing to reinstate time limits that most states had waived in the recession. Healthy adults without children will be limited to three months of benefits every three years unless they are working or enrolled in job training for at least 20 hours a week.
The move to reinstate those limits could end benefits for about 1 million people, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank specializing in low-income policies.
Democrats are planning to fight the GOP on this. “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of poor people,” Jim McGovern (D-Mass) said.
This won’t be the first time Republicans have addressed the issue of food stamps. In 2013, they tried to cut the program by $40 billion as part of the farm-bill reauthorization. A compromise with Democrats yielded $8.6 billion in cuts over 10 years, achieved by tightening standards for the so-called heat-and-eat program, under which food-stamp recipients qualify for higher benefits if they get heating assistance from their states.
Congress includes food-stamp funding in the farm bill because it is believed that lawmakers from large cities need a reason to approve money for agriculture.
The Agriculture Department states that the average recipient receives about $125 a month in benefits. The money is prohibited from being used on alcohol, cigarettes and “prepared foods.” Some are even arguing that the government should add on tougher nutrition requirements to not allow purchases of soda and other sugary beverages.
Featured image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal