Peterson: Ryan’s changes to food stamps would prevent passage of farm bill

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Tuesday released a House Republican plan to fight poverty that makes changes to the food stamp program, but House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the proposal would make it impossible to pass another farm bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, endorsed the overall antipoverty package, without discussing the details. But the proposal, which involves consolidating nutrition programs and work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries, was quickly denounced by House Democrats and anti-hunger groups.

Ryan noted that the ideas were developed by the GOP Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility, whose members include Conaway; Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.; Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.; Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas; and Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

“We can address hunger, we can address homelessness, but until we address the core issues people are facing, it’s just an endless cycle. What we have seen in our review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is community partners are critical to successful upward mobility by working directly with a person to address their specific needs,” Conaway said in a news release.

Peterson said, “Political documents in a political year are not the answer to improving nutrition programs. This proposal is strikingly similar to amendments that nearly derailed the 2014 farm bill. I believe that if the House chooses to go down this path, we will never be able to pass another farm bill.”

Peterson added, “I have been supportive of the Agriculture Committee’s 14 hearings to learn more about SNAP and look at ways for the program to be improved. But this proposal’s focus on political ideology ignores the larger picture and areas where we can find some agreement. The Agriculture Committee has a tradition of working together, and I hope we can continue that moving forward.”

House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who is a senior member of the House Democrats Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity, said, “Americans need Congress to come together to offer bipartisan solutions that will help millions of families escape poverty – not make it harder for them to get ahead. Speaker Ryan likes to talk about fixing poverty, but the House Republican agenda outlined today would only make poverty worse.”

Rep. Rosa De Lauro, D-Conn., said, “Speaker Ryan and Republicans continue to mislead and distort the truth by stating that the poverty rate has remained flat, despite spending trillions of dollars on social safety net programs. This claim is simply not true. The poverty rate has fallen substantially since we began the war on poverty, and as of 2014, we have cut the overall poverty rate by 40 percent, and the child poverty rate by 35 percent. This week, Speaker Ryan and the GOP will once again use this distortion to eviscerate social safety net programs that lift millions of people out of poverty.

“The results of our social safety net programs are clear,” she continued. “In 2014, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty across the country, including 2.1 million children, with the average family utilizing the program for just 8 to 10 months. Further, the Child Tax Credit lifted 3.1 million people out of poverty — including 1.7 million children. And Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, along with Housing Choice Vouchers and Public Housing, lifted 2.8 million people out of poverty. This is the true story of federal efforts to address poverty and it is a story of government working.”

De Lauro added, “The reason why we have cut the poverty rate in half is America’s social safety net. However, the GOP misrepresents the truth by not using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which accounts for programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and SNAP. Using this distortion, Speaker Ryan attacks programs like SNAP and the school lunch program with ideas like block grants that would return power to the states. This action would effectively decimate these programs, driving millions of Americans deeper into poverty and leaving them hungry.”

Food Research & Action Center President Jim Weill said, “To be clear, the Ryan proposal is not just about drastic cuts to proven programs; it’s also about dismantling the stable and effective structure of our nation’s safety net. It is downright dangerous. It is dangerous because, by abandoning the proven strengths of the key parts of the nation’s nutrition safety net, it will increase hunger and poverty, harm health and learning, and pull resources out of low-income communities.”

Weill continued, “Poverty is a national problem that requires a national response. Speaker Ryan’s proposal to block grant school meals would roll back years of progress made against childhood hunger, denying millions of children the nutrition they need to grow and learn. This is why nearly 1,000 organizations which advocate on behalf of children’s issues have vehemently opposed the block grant provision included in the House child nutrition reauthorization bill.

“Damaging SNAP by building in ill-conceived changes based on misconceptions or stereotypes would result in irreparable harm to people who are trying desperately to put food on the table and to move out of poverty,” he added. “These are people living in households with a child, elderly person, person with disabilities, and more than half of households with children have working adults. Cuts to SNAP would harm not just beneficiaries but would harm economies in states, localities, and communities.”

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein said the proposal was a “welcome development” because “poverty doesn’t get enough attention.” But Greenstein went on to say in a lengthy explanation that “the proposals would likely do more harm than good.”

–The Hagstrom Report