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House leaders to vote on Thursday on $4 billion in food stamp cuts

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are working to line up votes for nearly $4 billion in annual food stamp cuts, but some GOP moderates are questioning if that is too much.

The savings would be achieved by allowing states to put broad new work requirements in place for many food stamp recipients and to test applicants for drugs. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday.

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

Conservatives have said the almost $80 billion-a-year program has become bloated. More than 47 million Americans, or 1 in 7, are on food stamps, and the program's cost has more than doubled in the past five years as the economy has struggled.

But finding a compromise — and the votes — to scale back the feeding program has been difficult. Conservatives have insisted on larger reductions, while Democrats have been united in opposition and moderate Republicans from areas with high food stamp usage have been wary of efforts to slim the program.

“I think the cuts are too drastic and too draconian,” says Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., who represents Staten Island, which was hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy last year. “Those that really need the program will suffer.”

Grimm says he plans to vote against the bill.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, also plans a “no” vote, according to his spokesman, Michael Anderson. He said Young is concerned about the impact the cuts could have on people in his state's poorest, most rural areas.

With some Republicans wavering, the vote could be close. The GOP leaders have been reaching out to moderates to ensure their support while anti-hunger groups have similarly worked to garner opposition.

The food stamp legislation is the House's effort to finish work on a wide-ranging farm bill, which has historically included farm programs and food stamps. The House Agriculture Committee approved a combined bill this year, but it was defeated on the floor in June after conservatives revolted, saying the cuts to food stamps were not high enough. That bill included about $2 billion in reductions annually.

After the farm bill defeat, Republican leaders split the legislation in two and passed a bill in July that included only farm programs. They promised to deal with the food stamp bill later, with deeper cuts.

Republicans have emphasized that the bill targets able-bodied adults who don't have dependents and would allow states to implement work requirements that are similar to the 1996 welfare law that led to a decline in people receiving that government assistance.

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