Hungry Americans should long remember the vote taken last week by the House to endanger the nation's food stamp program. House Republicans stripped the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program out of the farm bill, where it had been since 1973, and then passed the legislation without a single Democratic vote. House Republicans are fine with spending billions of dollars to subsidize farmers, but they refuse to adequately fund or even take up legislation for a program that provides food aid to 47 million Americans, about half of them children. Every Republican member of Congress from the Tampa Bay area should explain why feeding hungry children is less important than crop insurance for agribusiness.
There has been a concerted effort by House Republicans to dismantle the nation's safety net for the poor, elderly, unemployed and disabled. Food stamps have been traditionally bundled with farm programs to merge the interests of urban and rural lawmakers as a way to promote compromise. But in an attempt last month, House Republican leaders couldn't get enough Republican votes to pass a farm bill that included SNAP funding even after it was slashed by $20 billion over the next decade.
Every Republican member of the House from the Tampa Bay area voted for the stand-alone farm bill last week, including Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill; Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland; C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores; and Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Only Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, voted against the bill. Now House Republicans will likely try to pass SNAP funding separately, but conservatives want even steeper cuts.
They don't like that the food stamp program has grown in size and cost as Americans fell victim to the effects of the Great Recession, nearly doubling from $40 billion to $80 billion since 2008. Their answer is to unravel the safety net (or "hammock" as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis, chairman of the House Budget Committee describes it) to push people to solve their own hunger problems or, presumably, not eat.
The only solace for Americans who rely on SNAP is that the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill in June that includes food stamps, with relatively small cuts of $4 billion over the next 10 years. There is virtually no chance for the House's stand-alone farm bill to be approved by the Democratically controlled Senate, and President Barack Obama has already issued a veto threat of the measure.
The Republican-run House is communicating loudly to a conservative base and ignoring the greater public interest. It has repeatedly voted to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act that will extend health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. It sought an end to federal unemployment benefits and to slash other programs that vulnerable populations rely on. For farmers looking for help, House Republicans are happy to oblige. The hungry, however, should look elsewhere.