(MCT) CHARLESTON — More than 70,000 state residents have been added to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, over the last five years.
Nearly one in five West Virginians now is enrolled in the program, although some could lose their eligibility if cuts proposed by U.S. House members become law.
The U.S. Senate agriculture committee on Tuesday approved its version of the Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, including $4.1 billion in reductions to SNAP.
The House agriculture committee’s version of the farm bill, which was to be considered on Wednesday, included much deeper cuts: $20.5 billion over the next 10 years.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates 1.8 million people nationwide would lose SNAP benefits if the House cuts became law. The nonpartisan group also estimates 280,000 school-age children would no longer be eligible for free school meals through SNAP.
In February, 349,853 West Virginians were signed up for the program, compared with 276,800 in 2008. Around 3,000 residents have joined SNAP since July 2012.
It’s not clear how many West Virginia residents would be affected by the cuts, but U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the House committee’s suggested cuts are wrong-headed.
“We all believe there are too many people on SNAP, but there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this,” he told the Daily Mail.
Vilsack pointed out President Barack Obama’s budget did not include any proposed cuts to the program.
“He recognizes that 92 percent of people receiving SNAP are either senior citizens, disabled individuals, children or people in the workforce that find themselves in low-paying jobs,” he said.
Rep. Shelley Moore-Capito, R-W.Va., said she believes Congress should reduce funding for the program.
“SNAP has grown by about $46 billion over the past six years. With an almost $17 trillion debt, I believe that reductions could be made. Congress should focus spending on those who are most in need and make sure that all persons receiving benefits are eligible to receive them,” she said.
SNAP will spend about $76 billion on benefits in 2013, up from $30 billion in 2007.
Members of the House agriculture committee want to remove a provision of the current program known as “categorical eligibility,” which allows families to receive food stamps if they qualify for other federal assistance programs like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
“They believe there are people who would not otherwise qualify for SNAP, who only get into the program through this efficiency,” Vilsack said. “The problem with this theory is, there are far more people who qualify for the program who will be discouraged from participating in this program.
“There won’t be as many people getting the program who need the program.”
Cuts to SNAP would hurt more than just needy families, Vilsack said. A reduction in funding would affect everyone along the supply chain, from farms to truckers and grocery store workers.
Vilsack said 97 percent of SNAP benefits are spent within 30 days. About 16 cents of every dollar winds up in a farmer’s pocket, he said, and for every dollar invested in the program, SNAP generates about $1.80 in economic activity.
“You’re really talking about a reduction in several billion dollars in farm income,” he said.
Short of a good-paying job, Vilsack said SNAP is one of the best poverty-reducing programs in the country.
“It reverberates through the economy,” he said. “We will work with whatever Congress ultimately decides to do, but I think it’s important for people to realize there are consequences.”
Vilsack said SNAP cuts proposed by the Senate agriculture committee are less drastic because the focus is on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Currently, anyone who receives LIHEAP benefits, even if it’s a few dollars a month, is automatically eligible for SNAP.
According to a Congressional Budget Office report, some states send small LIHEAP payments, some as little as $1, to people so they can automatically qualify for the SNAP program.
Nearly 500,000 households nationwide would see reductions in SNAP benefits if Senate cuts become law, the report found.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.
(c) 2013 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)
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