Democrats are backing off their push to slash the food stamp program

After Democrats failed in an effort to slash the main source of federal spending on low-income people, the bill they now favor would give people less money in benefit checks — or could increase their costs.

House Democrats supported a three-year, $1.3 trillion-plus government spending bill last week, but the bill explicitly includes a $15 billion attempt to rein in the cost of food stamps and other programs that feed low-income Americans. Over the last few years, lawmakers hiked the monthly food stamp allotment annually, taking it from $1.2 billion in 2013 to the current $871.1 billion.

Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, the lone Democratic co-sponsor of the bill (H.R. 6), argued that the benefits people receive from the programs is increasing, as is their costs. “It’s just about doing what’s right,” he said.

But lawmakers are so worried about putting the new food stamp allocation on the books that they might try to cut it. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., said Friday that while he thinks it’s “reasonable” to put the boost in food stamp recipients “on the table,” it’s a “regrettable” move that could hurt both recipients and sponsors of the bill.

Facing the tough sell from both sides, Democrats appear to be backing off their initial effort to overhaul food stamps, a plan that Republicans have been pushing for years. But they’re more worried about giving away more money than they are about not raising more money.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said that while he still supports cutting food stamps to give people an incentive to move toward self-sufficiency, the Democratic negotiators voted in favor of the bill just before senators began moving amendments to reduce the benefits.

“The goal is to end SNAP in 2026, and we hope to raise enough to keep it going to give people incentives to get off the program. That’s the goal of the bill,” Beyer said.

Republican lawmakers, who have been pushing for years to shift the food stamp program to a cash-only system, are not playing along with the idea that lawmakers are worried about the money — but they worry about the hand they might be playing in the process. They say Democrats have done so much to increase food stamp benefits that they are now standing in the way of getting people off the rolls.

“We have to make sure that people have earned [perks] that allow them to find work or pay the rent. But it’s also about what our values are — and letting poor people have a decent way to feed themselves and their families,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said that in the coming weeks, Congress will likely continue work on the bill, but the Senate will probably kill a Democratic proposal to change the formula to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main source of federal spending on low-income people.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., confirmed Friday that Republicans would probably move to deal with the proposal, which cuts the size of food stamp benefits by another $6 billion a year. After that, he said, senators from both parties will be targeting food stamps in an effort to cut $100 billion from the program.

But Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing nutrition programs, warned that cutting SNAP benefits would be counterproductive, as well as leaving people too worried about where their next meal is coming from.

“Any proposed reductions in these benefits will result in lower-income households returning to struggling in the midst of our current and impending social crisis, and that is no way to spend taxpayer dollars,” Lowey said.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has joined with Republicans on several proposals that would redirect funding from the farm bill to reduce SNAP benefits, a point of contention with Democrats. But he said Saturday that the plan he supports won’t include that language.

“I have nothing to do with the farm bill, and I don’t want the farm bill to include it,” King said.

“I think any move that is to take funds away from food stamps is not good,” he said

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