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SNAP Attack

Ilana Novick

We knew Congress was going to slash SNAP benefits in the latest, House version of the farm bill -- despite any number of compromise suggestions (largely misguided) to increase work requirements, impose new asset tests, and so on. 

Instead of debating such compromises, however, the House decided it was more convenient to simply remove food stamps from the farm bill altogether, and as House Speaker John Boehner said, leave SNAP benefits for "later."

The coupling of the farm bill and SNAP benefits was originally an uneasy but still effective compromise between representatives from rural farm districts and those from larger urban areas. It was never an easy alliance, a bill that as The Daily Beast notes, somehow managed to support producers and food purchasers, but that was the price we paid for preserving one of our last remaining examples of poverty policies. 

Now that ultraconservatives have a majority in the House, it seems the needs of the 47 million Americans who depend on SNAP benefits pale in comparison to those of big agribusinesses who, in this version of the bill, stand to receive $195.6 billion in subsidies and insurance payments.

These subsidies, created initially to cover emergencies and particularly terrible harvests, now "allow American agribusinesses to rake in huge profits regardless of market conditions." Said businesses also just happen to be big campaign contributors to many of the same representatives who voted for the bill. 

Opponents love to mention the increases in SNAP usage since 2008 as evidence of fraud, as if we haven't been in the largest economic downtown in decades, or as the Daily Beast notes dealing with "structural changes in the U.S. economy, particularly the stubborn resistance of American companies to pay decent wages." 

In fact, as a recent New York Times editorial points out, the rate of error and fraud in the agricultural crop insurance program is "significantly higher" than in the SNAP portion of the bill. The editorial also points out provisions like "the $147 million a year in reparations we send to Brazil to make up for the fact that it won a World Trade Organization complaint about the market-distorting effects of our cotton subsidies."

Of course, as Forbes notes, "The omission of SNAP from the farm bill should not be taken to mean that such programs are going to disappear altogether." The Senate would never accept that outcome, especially after their own version of the bill featured much more modest SNAP cuts. Plus, the White House has threatened to veto any farm bill without SNAP. 

Still, things don't look great. As the Times points out: "House and Senate negotiators could produce a compromise measure with the robust food stamp program the Senate wants, but such a bill would almost certainly have to pass the House with significant Republican defections." Considering how easily SNAP benefits were taken away, it's hard to say how these defections would happen, though now would be a good time for SNAP supporters to start finding reasons to make it happen.