In a guest column for the Grand Forks Herald yesterday, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp invoked her political party’s favorite buzz word and accused House Republicans of “extreme” cuts to food stamps.
Here’s the thrust of Heitkamp’s argument supporting that “extreme” label:
Let’s be clear about who’s trying to pull the rug out from under low-income families. The House Republicans’ Farm Bill slashed $40 billion from SNAP. It would kick nearly 4 million Americans off the program — including working parents, children, seniors, veterans and disabled Americans — and 210,000 children would lose school lunches.
The problem is that Heitkamp isn’t being accurate.
The $40 billion “slashed” from the food stamps program is just a projection. Congress doesn’t appropriate a specific dollar amount for food stamps. They administer the qualifications from the program, and from that is extrapolated an estimated cost of the program.
The $40 billion in “cuts” Heitkamp is talking about actually result in changes in who is qualified for the program, which the New York Times describes:
[The House food stamps bill] would…require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work training program in order to receive benefits. It would also limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill.
So, yes, there would be a $40 billion cost reduction over 10 years and four million fewer people would qualify for the program. But these would be people without children, and they’d only be disqualified if they refused to look for work or get training while receiving food stamps.
There would also be a time limit for food stamps enrollments for these people without children.
I think most North Dakotans would agree that these are probably pretty reasonable changes Also ending would be categorical enrollments through which states can automatically enroll for food stamps any person receiving even a dollar of assistance from another state program. These people could still get food stamps, but only under the federal guidelines.
Again, a pretty reasonable reform, especially given that enrollment in the food stamps programs has come pretty close to doubling since 2006, going from about 25 million to more than 47 million enrollees.
What’s frustrating is that Senator Heitkamp campaigned against this exact sort of partisan hyperbole. She told North Dakotans in her campaign statements and advertising that she was going to bring an end to the sort of politics that has one side accusing the other of wanting to starve little children.
I guess Heitkamp’s campaign promises had an expiration date.