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House to consider $4B in food stamp cuts

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 7:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The House is expected to consider a bill this week that would cut food stamps by an estimated $4 billion annually and allow states to put broad new work requirements in place for recipients.

The legislation would end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults who don't have dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

The vote occurs after the House defeated a wide-ranging farm bill in June because many conservatives believed the cuts to the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program weren't high enough. That bill would have made about $2 billion a year in cuts.

Food stamps have for decades been part of farm legislation. But House leaders separated the food and farm programs after the bill's June defeat and passed a farm-only bill in July. The Republican leaders, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, then crafted the food stamp bill in an effort to appease conservatives who have been aggressively pushing for cuts to domestic food aid.

One in seven Americans use food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the cost of the program has more than doubled in the past five years.

It is unclear whether the Republican leaders have enough votes for passage. Democrats have lined up solidly in opposition, and some moderate Republicans have indicated they may not be able to stomach the cuts.

Even if the bill passes, the cuts are unlikely to become law. The Democratic Senate passed a farm bill in June with one-tenth of the cuts in the House bill, or about $400 million a year, and President Obama has strongly opposed any major cuts to the program.

The House bill would tighten eligibility standards and try to reduce the rolls by allowing states to require drug testing for recipients. It would bar convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles from receiving food stamps.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, called the bill “unnecessary and divisive.”

“Even if this bill is defeated, as it should be, I worry the debate will eliminate any remaining goodwill needed to pass a farm bill,” Peterson said.

Peterson and other rural Democrats worked closely with House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in writing the original farm bill. But Peterson, along with every other Democrat voting that day, voted against the farm-only bill that passed the House in July, warning of food stamp cuts to come.

The president of the National Farmers Union on Monday urged members to vote against the food stamp bill. National farm groups have long supported inclusion of food stamps in farm bills to garner votes from urban lawmakers.

“Separating nutrition programs from the farm bill was a mistake from the very beginning,” said Roger Johnson.

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