Wanting a new farm bill quickly and within its preferred parameters, the White House continues to stoke the fire beneath conference committee members. On Tuesday, heat came in the form of a report playing up the benefits and necessity of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Read the full report here.
So far, the tactic – which included another farm bill-related study flogged by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week – has yet to produce results. Conferees are reportedly still far from compromise on, among other things, SNAP (food stamp) funding levels and commodity title provisions.
The nutrition program, said a White House release, “helps millions of Americans put food on the table has been one of our nation’s strongest defenses against hunger and poverty while also benefitting farm and rural economies.”
The latest report says SNAP “cuts in the House bill would greatly harm families struggling to find work and those that depend on low-wage jobs as the economy continues to recover.”
The House farm bill calls for $40 billion in SNAP funding cuts over a decade with the Senate version calling for $4 billion. Enacting the House farm bill, claims the White House report, would remove nearly four million Americans from SNAP benefits.
“SNAP funding is absolutely fundamental,” said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, during a Tuesday morning press conference. “The people it serves are children, the elderly and veterans. There’s no reason to be having a conversation about cutting the SNAP program. This is an efficient program that has huge benefits for families that are struggling economically…
“There is simply no reason to be having a conversation about making cuts – especially not deep cuts – in the SNAP program.”
As for what the Obama administration is doing to ensure passage of a new farm bill, “you’ve heard the President talk about the importance of getting this done,” said Matt Lehrich, White House spokesman. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack “is constantly talking about this both publically and in his private conversation with members of Congress. That’s true of people throughout the (Obama) administration…
“We continue to relay the message that Congress has always passed bipartisan, real, comprehensive farm bills and there’s no reason we should let partisan politics get in the way of that.”
Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said the millions that could be knocked off SNAP rolls “are our neighbors. That’s a lot of people and their lives count and their food security and nutrition count.”
Sperling also pushed against the perception that food stamp recipients are lazy. “On policy, it’s important to understand that SNAP is pro-work – 96 percent of people who were working and got SNAP the next year kept on working. Provisions that the Republicans are supporting aren’t pro-work but just harsh and denying flexibility desired by both Republican and Democratic governors with the fact that our economy, while recovering, is coming back from the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
The White House also claims 210,000 children stand to lose access to school lunches if the House funding levels are adopted.
“Most states rely on some form of ‘categorically eligibility’ where they allow a family eligible for other poverty programs to be eligible for SNAP,” explained Sperling. “When the House Republicans pulls back on that, it ends up denying 3.8 million Americans food stamps. That then has the unfortunate effect of denying eligibility for many of the children in those families. So, estimates are because of that measure, 210,000 children will lose eligibility for school lunch programs.”
How does the Obama administration see the conference committee efforts thus far?
“I understand there are ongoing negotiations underway with respect to the traditional agricultural issues associated with the farm bill,” said Munoz. “We’ve not seen a full resolution to all those issues, although we hope they can be resolved.
“And there is a very, very big difference with respect to the SNAP program. That difference boils down to a fundamental question of values. … It does say what we are as a society that we have to have a conversation about taking food off the tables of Americans who need that food.”
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So, is the White House comfortable with the Senate farm bill slashing $4 billion from SNAP?
“The Senate pulled together a bipartisan bill,” said Munoz, skirting the issue. “That’s encouraging – it demonstrates bipartisanship is possible to get to a result. We continue to believe there’s no need to be cutting food stamps.”
Sperling was only slightly more forthcoming: “This administration is generally supportive of the compromise worked out in the Senate (farm) bill.”