In a not entirely unexpected move, House Republicans are planning to raid the food stamp cupboard over the next decade to avoid depleting the Pentagon budget, which was scheduled for a 10 percent cutback.

The cuts would essentially repeal increases made three years ago as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus, and would deprive a family of four of $60 a month. Additionally, an estimated 3 million persons would be ousted from the program as eligibility requirements are tightened.

The GOP is touting the cuts—and similar plans—as a necessary deficit-reducing measure. The legislation would purportedly trim $261 billion from the federal budget over the next decade. Of that, the food stamp cuts would account for $8 billion in cuts over the coming year and $34 billion over a decade. The GOP effort is, in part, an attempt to avoid across-the-board cuts, including a $55 billion reduction to the Pentagon budget and a $43 billion cut to domestic agencies, which goes into effect Jan. 1.

In a speech before the House Budget Committee’s April 17 hearing on the measure, Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) compared the proposed changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

“We saw the success of welfare reform. The Republican budget follows in the tradition of this success. Opponents of reform were wrong in 1996, and today – as we act to prevent a debt crisis that truly would devastate the poor – they are even more wrong,” Ryan said.

“Is it in our national interest to create a class of people permanently dependent on the government?” he also asked. “More to the point, is it in the best interest of these individuals to become dependent on government?

“We must also ask: What happens to those who are most in need of government assistance when the government can no longer pay its bills?”

Critics of the Republican-led effort, however, decry them as disingenuous—especially given their continued aversion to increasing revenue by raising taxes on the nation’s wealthiest Americans.

“This is supposed to be about paying down our deficit? It’s laughable,” said President Obama at an Associated Press luncheon earlier this month. “It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said last month that the proposed changes would increase hunger and joblessness, and harm the economy.

“For decades, SNAP…has enjoyed strong bipartisan support and has helped ensure the poorest and hungriest people in our nation can put food on the table. SNAP’s responsiveness to unemployment proved it to be one of the most effective safety net programs during the recent recession, providing families with a stable source of food,” he said, adding, “Chairman Ryan’s proposal to…slash funding is an old idea that has always been misconceived, and that places the burden of deficit reduction on the most vulnerable among us. Congress should oppose this misguided and harmful effort, as well as the other attempts to shred our nation’s safety net.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO