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September 22, 2014

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Politics:

House Republicans take aim at food stamps; some Democrats, including those from Nevada, try to fend them off

As the House of Representatives takes up its version of the Farm Bill, it’s clear that food stamps are going to be one of the most contentious issues on the floor.

A dozen of the 103 amendments being debated seek to change theSupplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the president has already threatened to veto the bill if the House doesn’t pare back the program cuts envisioned in the bill.

It seems all but inevitable that federal food stamp assistance will sustain some serious cuts this year. The Senate, which passed its Farm Bill earlier this month, allows a supplemental expansion to the program, adopted under the 2009 stimulus, to expire — a cut equivalent to about $4 billion. Meanwhile, the House’s bill would cut $20.5 billion, and some in the Republican majority think the cuts should be even deeper.

But a cadre of House Democrats — including two representatives from Nevada — are trying to reverse all cuts to the program entirely.

A Nevada child who receives just $4 a day (in SNAP benefits) is not the problem,” Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford said to constituents in a conference call about food stamps on Monday. “The bottom line is that SNAP is our nation’s most important anti-hunger program.”

He and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus are co-sponsoring an amendment from Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts to restore the entire $20.5 billion the House strips from the food stamp program.

Despite the co-sponsorship of over 70 Democrats, it’s not expected to go far in the House, where Republicans are likely to largely hold the party line and have submitted several amendments to make the food stamp program even leaner through expanded cuts, reduced eligibility and new welfare-to-work requirements.

Horsford is still hoping to beat the odds. He had hoped to be debating an amendment to recalculate the formula upon which food stamp benefits are determined to take the distance someone lives from the nearest grocery selling fresh food into consideration. He recalled a similar effort he passed as a state senator in 2005 in a similar situation.

“I was in the minority and I was a freshman,” Horsford said, when he won support for a bill to bring more grocery stores to West Las Vegas, then a “food desert.” Horsford believes Nevadans on food stamps, especially in the rural and underdeveloped urban areas, would benefit greatly from such a revisiting of the SNAP program.

But the House won’t get a chance to vote on that proposal because it’s not part of the 12 SNAP amendments that were approved for the general debate.

The House will, however, get a chance to vote on a Titus amendment to continue the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hunger-Free Communities grant program, which helps support public-private partnerships to combat hunger. Titus also offered an amendment to establish a pilot Weekends Without Hunger program to provide meals to school children on weekends and school holidays. But it did not make the list of amendments that will be debated on the House floor.

“I believe that we can and should be doing more to end hunger in the U.S. and abroad,” said Titus, who also urged Secretary of State John Kerry to engage the U.S. more deeply in international food security initiatives. “Our efforts can continue to improve outcomes and break the cycle of poverty, ensuring healthier children and families, greater economic prosperity, increased national security and stronger communities around the world.”

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