Battle lines have been drawn in the House for a showdown over the 2012 Farm Bill, a lumbering omnibus of food and agriculture related legislation which has drawn criticism from many corners.

With the Senate’s passage of the 1,010-page bill June 21, House lawmakers are set to begin debate on the legislation July 11. Key in those discussions, as it was when the legislation reached the Senate floor, will be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps.

House Republicans are planning to slash the program as part of their deficit reduction agenda. But many Democrats, and especially the Congressional Black Caucus, whose mostly-urban constituencies depend on the program, oppose any cuts.

“SNAP helps keep millions of Americans out of poverty, including more than 2 million children in 2010 alone,” CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in a statement. “As the conscience of the Congress, we will not, shall not and cannot allow these devastating cuts to SNAP, which will cause great harm for our most vulnerable communities.”

The CBC sent a letter to Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas and ranking member Rep. Collin C. Peterson outlining their concerns. More than 85 percent of the households enrolled in SNAP have gross incomes below the poverty level, which is $22,000 for a family of four. Also, 40 percent of those households have an income totaling less than half of the poverty line.

The recent economic recession has made the situation even worse. The number of food stamp recipients swelled from 26 million in 2007 to more than 46 million individuals currently, an increase of 77 percent. Government spending on the program has more than doubled from $33 billion in fiscal year 2007 to nearly $76 billion in fiscal year 2011.

But House Republicans and even some Democrats said while they are sympathetic to the plight of the needy, they are concerned that users are abusing the system. Lawmakers were particularly upset that some states have leveraged minimal amounts of federal home heating aid to gain more in food stamps.

“With soaring deficits and an unfathomable national debt, we must be mindful of this grave fiscal situation,” said Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture, in a statement. “In order for us to reauthorize and craft responsible farm programs, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that every dollar spent is a wise dollar spent. Investing wisely in specialty crops and ensuring that nutrition programs are being administered effectively is critical at this time.” 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO