U.S. House passes a bad Farm Bill; “could have been worse” is not good enough

Take Action!As expected, the House of Representatives passed the newest version of the Farm Bill yesterday, containing an estimated $8.6 billion in cuts to SNAP/food stamps over the next 10 years.

Nearly all of these cuts are arrived at through the virtual elimination of a state provision commonly called “heat and eat.”

Heat and eat is an administrative short-cut that allows states to help households whose heating expenses are included in their rent. It automatically signs them up for a nominal amount of Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefits, thereby boosting their food stamp allotment.

The new Farm Bill will make this prohibitively expensive for states to do.

Thousands and thousands of low-income Americans will see their already meager food benefits shrink. And for what? Why? To meet some arbitrary deficit reduction goal, to pay the cost of the giveaways and the crop insurance program, to pay for the sweetheart deals for the sushi rice growers and the peanut farmers and God knows who else?” – Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)

The bill passed 251-166. 63 Republicans (including Keith Rothfus), voted no, mostly because the cuts and other agricultural policy reforms did not go far enough for their tastes, while 103 Democrats voted no, mostly because the food stamp cuts were too harsh. Mike Doyle was among 15 members who did not cast a vote, because he was in Pittsburgh yesterday with Obama.

The Hard Numbers

Because Pennsylvania is one of only about 16 states that opt into the heat-and-eat provision, an estimated 175,000 Pennsylvania households will see a drop in their monthly benefits by an average of $65 per month.

Keep in mind that these farm bill cuts are on top of the Nov. 1, 2013 across-the-board cuts in benefit levels for every food stamp recipient in the country. (Due to the expiration of stimulus funds put in place in 2009, following the economic crash.)

According to the DPW’s November data, these cuts cost food stamp households in Allegheny County alone $1,466,499 in a single month. The average allocation dropped from $246 per household per month to a bit under $229. The cuts will cost poor households that much again every month going forward, not to mention the loss of these dollars in our local economy.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate within days and be signed by the president. Exactly when these cuts would take effect is still unclear, and there may be steps we can take to advocate delays in its implementation by Pennsylvania.

The consolation prize is that many of the worst provisions of last fall’s farm bill as passed by the House (but not the Senate) were eliminated by this compromise. In fact, some – but not all – of our national allies considered the bipartisan conference committee bill “the best we could do” and encouraged their partners to support it.

Just Harvest, along with other organizations, did not support this bill, standing firm in opposition to any cuts in food stamps.

House members who voted yes on the bill and the president –  in his State of the Union address the night prior to the vote – had the power and opportunity to oppose the deal and chose not use it. It is their political cowardice that ensured that this Farm Bill is indeed the best we can get.

We can do better than this.

Take Action

Contact your Senator

We continue to ask our supporters to contact Senators Toomey and Casey to oppose the bill when it reaches the Senate floor.

Tell them to Vote NO on any Farm Bill that includes SNAP cuts.

Spread the word by sharing with your networks and on social media.

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47 million Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Now is the time to protect + strengthen food stamps not cut them. #SNAPworks

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The best we can hope for? That’s what some are calling nearly $9 billion in cuts to food stamps. The House passed the new Farm Bill on Wednesday. Now its headed to the Senate. What do you think they should do?

Rep. Jim McGovern denounces House passing food stamp cuts in new Farm Bill, Jan. 2014

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