Democrats Protest $5 Billion Food Stamp Cut They Voted For

Oct 29, 2013 | Updated Oct 30, 2013

WASHINGTON -- A group of nine Democratic members of the House of Representatives held a press conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday to demand Congress avert an automatic food stamp cut scheduled to take effect on Friday.

"The average family of four will see a $36 cut in their monthly benefits, bringing the average per-person benefit from $1.50 a meal to $1.40 a meal," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. "Shame on this Congress for allowing this to happen."

But the cut, which will reduce monthly benefits for all 47 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by roughly 7 percent, is happening thanks mainly to Democratic votes that hastened the demise of a benefit increase from the 2009 stimulus bill. Each of the representatives at Tuesday's presser voted with their party for a pair of 2010 spending bills that set the cuts in motion.

The first bill took money allocated for future food stamp use and used it instead to prevent states from laying off teachers. Democrats supported the bill grudgingly, lamenting that it would cause a food stamp cut in 2014. When it came time to support a second bill that raided future food stamp funds once again, pushing the cut to November 2013, they protested -- at least at first.

"This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is a vote we do not take lightly," more than 100 Democrats wrote in an August 2010 letter to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

But then President Barack Obama smoothed things over in a meeting at the White House, because the bill in question was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act -- a priority of the first lady's. The measure provided free lunches and updated nutrition standards for schools.

"I am very pleased we were able to work together with the president and his team to address concerns regarding cuts to the food stamp program that are included in the child nutrition bill," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement at the time. On Tuesday, Lee told HuffPost the president had pledged to support replacing the SNAP funds, a vow he fulfilled in subsequent budget blueprints that didn't become law. Congress and the White House have been otherwise silent about the issue for the past three years.

On Tuesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) defended the 2010 tradeoff.

"It was a piece of legislation that said let's change nutrition standards, let's get junk foods out of our schools, and let's make sure that our kids can have those fruits and vegetables," DeLauro told HuffPost. "There was no money for it. The price of it was $2.2 billion. That came from the food stamp program and all of us here complained. And we were opposed to that but we knew that it was a good first step in getting the Hunger-Free Kids Act."

Friday's cut is happening thanks to the expiration of a 13.6 percent food stamp boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill. Originally, lawmakers had planned to let SNAP's annual inflation adjustments catch up to the increase sometime after 2015. Canceling the enhanced benefits this November means the government will spend $5 billion less on nutrition assistance next year -- an annual SNAP spending cut 25 percent larger than what House Republicans are seeking in farm bill negotiations starting this week.

DeLauro pivoted from November's food stamp decrease to Republican demands that food stamps be reduced by 5 percent, or $40 billion over 10 years, though the two things are completely separate.

"This is about people wanting to make a $40 billion cut in the food stamp program," DeLauro said, "not to put in place a Hunger-Free Kids Act, but in fact to take food out of the mouths of our children, or seniors, and the disabled. A much different time, a much different place, and a much different set of circumstances."

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