In amendments that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed last night to add to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) proposed reforms that Democrats say would end up cutting up to $11 billion from food stamps over the next decade.
Despite agreeing on Monday night to add Sessions' amendments to what's otherwise become known as the "farm bill," Reid also added an amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that looks to restore some of that lost funding.
The CBO estimated earlier this year that one in seven Americans receive federal food assistance. The agency said that taxpayers spent $78 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2011, making it the second largest social safety net program after Medicare. The government claims that every month, federal food aid keeps more than 5 million Americans from slipping into poverty.
"According to estimates by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, this deep cut in monthly benefits would affect 190,000 low-income New York City families and children who rely on these benefits for their nutrition, and would affect nearly 300,00 households statewide," she said in an advisory. Gillibrand's amendment would restore most of the funding by slashing subsidies that big agriculture companies use to buy crop insurance.
Sessions' plan would close "loopholes" in the program by tightening income requirements for families applying for aid and requiring more information about their monthly income and bills. It would also implement a verification system to ensure that undocumented immigrants are not receiving aid and eliminate bonuses for USDA employees.
"If food stamps spending were returned next year to 2007 funding levels, and increased from there at the rate of inflation, it would produce an astonishing $340 billion in savings over the next 10 years," he said in prepared text. The number of Americans relying on food stamps grew from 27.3 million in 2007 to 44 million in 2010, largely due to the economic downturn, according to the USDA.
Sessions' proposal, however, is not even close to the level of cuts being proposed by House Republicans, as led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan would have the government slash $134 billion from food stamps over the next decade, which is just a small part of $3.3 trillion in proposed cuts to safety net services.
The Senate's agreed-upon farm bill would still provide nearly $80 billion to food stamps every year for the next five years. The bill's co-sponsor, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), claimed in prepared text that it will reduce the deficit by $23 billion by "eliminating unnecessary direct payment subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse."
Correction: A prior version of this story said Sessions' proposals would cut $4 billion from food stamps. That amount is actually attributable to a different amendment introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.