Plan to cut food aid raises alarm

Bloomberg News /

WASHINGTON — A House Agriculture Committee plan to push cuts in farm spending beyond levels the Senate approved relies mostly on reductions in food stamps, alarming nutrition activists.

Of $35.1 billion that would be saved over a decade under the draft plan released Thursday, about $16.1 billion would come from food stamps, while growers of corn, cotton and other crops would see subsidies reduced by about $14.1 billion, according to congressional estimates. The cuts in nutrition assistance would be about four times more than those included in legislation the Senate passed last month and about half the size of an earlier House plan that would have dropped 1.8 million people from assistance rolls.

“It’s pretty disturbing — these are needy people” being targeted, said Ellen Vollinger, food-stamp lobbyist with the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based anti-hunger advocacy group. “They’re living at or near poverty, and there doesn’t seem to be a connection to that reality.”

About 46.2 million people — more than one in seven Americans — received food stamps in April, the last month for which statistics are available. That was down 0.7 percent from the record in December. Funding for the program reached a record $75.7 billion last year, double the level of four years earlier. This expenditure plus record farm profits are making the agriculture bill — a five-year reauthorization of U.S. Department of Agriculture programs — a target for budget cutters.

The legislation

Under the House proposal, which will be considered by the agriculture committee July 11, subsidies would fall by about $14 billion over 10 years, or $1 billion less than the Senate plan. That legislation calls for a total of $23.6 billion in savings across all programs.

The House plan, which cuts farm subsidies and crop insurance by 9.2 percent and food stamps by 2 percent, is “reform-minded, fiscally responsible policy that is equitable for farmers and ranchers in all regions,” Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said in an emailed statement.