Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy As House Votes To Slash Nutrition Relief To The Poor And To Erect Yet Another Barrier To Enactment Of A Farm Bill

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives late Thursday voted for massive cuts in food assistance for the poorest Americans, creating further obstacles to passing a long-delayed Farm Bill.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said, “This attack on one of the most vital strands of the already frayed poverty safety net is cobbled from myths and fueled by mean-spiritedness heaped on those who are struggling the most in our own communities.  This kind of bumper sticker politics, appealing to our worst instincts, is churlish, it is childish, and it is irresponsible.  This low road has also been rejected by such Republican statesmen as former Senator Bob Dole.”

The action came after House Republican leaders already had taken the unprecedented step of splitting food assistance – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – from the Farm Bill passed earlier this year by the Senate.  The nutrition title was originally stripped from the House-passed Farm Bill in July and comes months after the Senate passed its comprehensive reform bill in June.  The President this week signaled his opposition to the House bill.

The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act narrowly passed in a House vote of 217 to 210, proposing SNAP cuts of nearly $40 billion over the next ten years.  The nutrition bill’s cuts are nearly double those in the original House proposal from July and ten times greater than those proposed in the Senate’s bipartisan Farm Bill.  The House-passed bill includes a new provision that cuts at least another $19 billion by changing states’ ability to seek waivers for high unemployment areas and cutting off benefits for low-income individuals with no children.

Leahy noted that two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the disabled and the elderly.  The remaining participants are subject to rigorous work requirements in order to receive continuing benefits.  “In fact,” Leahy said, “this House bill would cut job training and placement programs for those people who are trying to find jobs and would mean nearly 4 million low-income individuals would go hungry in 2014.  I am proud of Vermont’s efforts with the 3SquaresVT program that helps put food on the table for our neediest fellow Vermonters, and I will fight for sensible SNAP program funding when the Senate and the House move to conference.”

“A small but vocal faction in the House continues to make a legislative hash of what used to be the purposeful process of putting Farm Bills together,” Leahy said.  “This latest lurching maneuver means more uncertainty for farmers, who already face enough uncertainty in their difficult work.”

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