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Editorial: Food stamp cuts hurt the weakest

The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC on March 23, 2013.   AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER        (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

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The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC on March 23, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

House Republicans overplayed their hand last month by adopting huge tax subsidies for farmers while proposing to slash food stamps for Americans who are too poor to eat. Now a new report puts in stark terms the human and financial impact of driving millions of Americans — most of them children and the elderly — deeper into poverty. President Barack Obama and the Senate should insist on better.

Food stamps have long been part of an omnibus farm bill, the cost of earning urban support for farm subsidies to rural states. But the House stripped food stamps from the legislation it passed in July, and Republicans vowed to take up the issue in separate legislation. But the move is a callous attempt to increase the House's leverage with the Democratic-controlled Senate in making wholesale cuts to the food stamp program. The House would cut $20 billion from food stamps over the next decade, five times the $4 billion reduction already adopted by the Senate.

The Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a report released Tuesday that the House plan would eliminate more than 5 million people from the program, or 10 percent of the 48 million people who receive the benefits every year. Roughly half of those would be children and older adults. Four of five who would lose eligibility already live below the poverty line even with their food stamps counted as income.

The impact would go beyond more empty stomachs. The scarcity of food and worsening poverty, the study said, will lead to an increase in health problems and force the elderly and sick into making more desperate choices on how to spend their limited household incomes. In treating diabetes alone, the medical costs to the public and private sectors could reach $15 billion over 10 years, wiping out the bulk of the House's food stamps savings on this single treatment alone. Seniors on fixed incomes would have trouble keeping pace with rising rents and energy prices, and with less coming in, would face the prospect of rationing medicines, heat, doctor's visits and other routine expenses. The cuts would hurt the weakest and reverberate across the economy. It is a mean-spirited approach that serves no worthwhile end.

The House should adopt a food stamp bill and attach the measure to the farm legislation. The Senate cuts are significant enough, and taking $20 billion from the program should be a nonstarter. Obama sent the right message by threatening to veto any stand-alone farm bill. Senators should stand firm and demand House leaders put a viable food stamp budget on the table. If playing to their conservative base was the goal all along, House Republicans have accomplished their partisan goal. Now it's time to help put supper on the table for those who would otherwise go without.

Editorial: Food stamp cuts hurt the weakest 07/31/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 5:45pm]
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