GOP rep.: Slashing food stamps by $40 billion means 'more money' for the hungry

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MA) on Thursday asserted that cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years would actually provide "more money" to hungry Americans.

A bill introduced by House Republicans this month almost doubled the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) proposed earlier this year after that plan was rejected by conservative lawmakers. GOP leaders were expected to bring the bill up for a vote on Thursday.

CNN's Carol Costello pointed out to Harris in a Thursday interview that critics had said that a $40 billion cut was "way too much" because the poverty rate in the United States has risen to more than 13 percent.

"It's a 5 percent decrease, when we know that there is 10.5 percent of the stores that take food stamps are engaged in trafficking," Harris replied. "So we know the fraud stands at 10 percent of the stores. We only want to cut 5 percent."

"That ought to leave more money getting to the hands of the people who do need it," he added. "And there are millions of Americans who need that benefit."

"But if you change the requirement, some people will be eliminated from qualifying for food stamps," Costello noted. "There are critics who say that those people need them too. And how do you decide who needs food stamps and who doesn't?"

"Well, again, there's the one study that showed -- by the Dept. of Agriculture -- 10.5 percent of stores are committing fraud," Harris insisted. "And, you know what we're doing, is we're just saying, 'Look, if we're going to help you with food stamps -- and we are -- then we need you to either work, look for employment -- if you're able bodied, not disabled and able to work -- either look for work or engage in job training.' We think that's a common-sense trade-off for getting help from the American taxpayer that needy people need."

"Well, some might say it's easy to say, 'Get some job training, get a new job, get a better paying job,'" Costello observed. "But there aren't that many jobs available at this particular time in our economy to accomplish that."

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that 14 million less people would be participating in the SNAP program by 2023 if the Republican House bill was enacted.

"Critics’ attempts to justify big cuts by claiming that SNAP participants are eschewing work are unfounded," according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities. "The fact that the majority of SNAP households with an adult who is not elderly or disabled work while they receive SNAP assistance, and that more than 80 percent of such households work in the year before or after SNAP receipt, makes clear the program is an important support for working families that fall on hard times."

"As the nation slowly climbs out of the deepest recession in decades, many families continue to face a shortage of jobs or to be paid wages too low to enable them to provide adequate food, and struggle to meet basic nutritional needs. The House SNAP proposal pays little heed to these economic conditions. Instead, it would deny food assistance to millions of low-income Americans and cause substantial increases in hardship."

Watch the video below from CNN, broadcast Sept. 19, 2013.