UPDATE: Senate Rejects SNAP Block Grant; Challenges Remain
JUNE 14, 2012
By Helly Lee
Update: On June 21, the Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act (also known as the Farm Bill) by a vote of 64-35. The senate has been debating amendments to the bill much of this week. Numerous nutrition amendments were considered and voted on. Earlier in the week the senate did not approve Senator Gillibrand’s amendment to restore $4.5 billion in cuts to the SNAP program. However, Senator Sessions’ amendment to limit categorical eligibility for only households who receive cash assistance was defeated.
The House is working on its version of the Farm Bill and is likely to mark it up in committee after the July 4th recess. CLASP will continue to follow the House’s process, and advocate strongly for protecting vital nutrition programs for low-income families in the bill.
This week, the Senate continued floor debate on the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, also known as the Farm Bill. Numerous amendments have been submitted and Senate leadership have the difficult task of working out which of these amendments will get votes. Yesterday, though, the Senate passed an important vote to table an amendment that would have block granted and capped funding for one of the nation's leading nutrition assistance programs for low-income individuals.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise called SNAP or food stamps, is one of the major programs being debated in the Farm Bill. The USDA reports that this program aided over 44.7 million individuals in 2011. SNAP has been a vital resource in these tough economic times when unemployment and underemployment rates remain high and families are having to make more out of less. With limited resources, many are facing tough choices about what meals can be stretched (or skipped) so there can be enough to afford gas in the car to make it to work the next day or so a medical bill can get paid. Because of SNAP, those decisions are a little easier and millions of families can go to their neighborhood grocery store and be able to purchase food - money that goes straight back into the local economy. The program has also been shown to keep millions out of poverty. The USDA finds that SNAP is responsible for an average annual decline in the nation's poverty rate of 4.4 percent between 2000 and 2009.
Despite the proven success of SNAP in effectively responding to the needs of struggling families, numerous amendments have been submitted to the Senate Farm Bill that pose serious threats to the program. Yesterday's vote killed Senator Rand Paul's amendment (SA #2182) to end the SNAP program and replace it with a block grant with a set annual funding level well below current levels, cutting SNAP nearly in half. In addition, the amendment would have provided no adjustments for increases in food prices or cost of living in the upcoming years, and would have crippled SNAP's ability to respond to the next recession. While this amendment was defeated, there is much work to be done in the upcoming week as the Senate continues to consider other amendments.
Senator Jeff Sessions has submitted an amendment (SA2171) that would require all members of a family applying for SNAP to provide documentation of citizenship or immigration status. Even if just one person in a household does not have the documents available, no one in the household can receive benefits, regardless of their eligibility. Current law already prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving SNAP, and this amendment would prevent many U.S. citizen children from accessing SNAP resources. Some of the most vulnerable citizens, such as those who are foster children, homeless or fleeing domestic violence, may also have difficulty providing the needed documents.
Years of research show us that food insecurity and hunger among children poses serious and long lasting consequences. Researchers at Children's Health Watch have reported that children in food-insecure homes are more likely to be at risk for health and developmental problems and to be hospitalized than their peers who do not experience food-insecurity. If adopted, Sen. Sessions' amendment would exclude vulnerable low-income individuals, and primarily children, from receiving much needed nutritional resources for which they are otherwise eligible.
In addition to these amendments, the Senate Farm bill proposes a $4.5 billion cut to the SNAP program over 10 years, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would result in 500,000 households losing $90 per month in SNAP benefits. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed an amendment (SA 2156) that would restore this cut to SNAP to ensure that families in need continue to receive vital resources.
CLASP will continue to closely monitor the Senate Farm Bill and any upcoming amendments affecting the SNAP program, including those mentioned above and additional attempts to block grant SNAP or make it harder for needy families to receive this important nutritional support.
To learn more about how you can get involved in advocacy efforts around the Farm Bill, visit the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) website!
Click here to learn more about what the House of Representatives is doing around the Farm Bill.