Food-stamp backers trying to stop cuts
Thursday, August 5, 2010 02:55 AM
By Jack Torry
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
WASHINGTON - After intense criticism from advocates for the poor, Senate Democrats yesterday were searching for a way to prevent major food-stamp cuts by 2014.
To help finance a bill that would provide states with $26 billion for education and health programs, Senate Democrats had agreed to cut $11.9 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
By a 61-38 vote yesterday, Senate Democrats ended Republican delaying tactics and cleared the way for final passage of the bill, which could take place as early as today.
But moments after the vote, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and three other Democratic senators asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., about the food-stamp reductions.
"We're very concerned about what this means long-term to food stamps," Brown said in a conference call with Ohio reporters. "(Reid) is committed to fixing it."
Brown did not elaborate on how the cuts would be restored. Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman, confirmed that Reid agreed to find a solution, adding that "we need to talk to the White House on how to deal with this."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called the House back into session next week to vote on the package. Ohio would receive $530 million for Medicaid, which covers health costs for the poor, and $362 million in education money, which would pay for an estimated 5,000 teachers.
Advocates for the poor, however, were still smoldering about the proposed reductions in food stamps. They argued that Senate Democrats still have time to eliminate the cuts before the bill is approved.
Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit group in Washington, said, "We appreciate the majority leader's thought, but there is still time to fix it when it needs to be fixed - which is before it's completed."
Weill's organization circulated calculations showing that under the bill, a family of four would lose $59 a month in food-stamp benefits beginning in June 2014.
The reason is that Congress provided a 13.6 percent increase to the food-stamp program last year as part of the $787 billion economic-stimulus package. But with inflation virtually nonexistent, Democrats argued that they could scale back that increase to help pay for the education and Medicaid spending.
More than 1.6 million Ohioans rely on food stamps with an average monthly benefit of $140. Nationwide, more than 40 million receive food stamps.
"Given the deficit mania coming down the pike, it's going to be harder to fix than it would normally be," Weill said. "The simplest, easiest, fastest way to fix it is not to do it."
Brown voted to end the filibuster while Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, voted to kill the measure.
Dispatch reporter Catherine Candisky contributed to this story.