House Farm Bill Would Kick 280,000 Low-Income Children Off Of School Meals Program

Members of the House Agriculture Committee this week will be marking up a “compromise” version of this year’s farm bill, which includes cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — i.e. food stamps — that would result in two to three million people losing their food assistance. 45 percent of the proposed cuts to federal spending in the bill come from reductions in the food stamp program.

The bulk of the cuts would be a result of eliminating what is known as “categorical eligibility,” which gave states the flexibility to enroll families in SNAP even if their assets (such as a car or modest savings) or income push them barely above the line to qualify for assistance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, such a move would not only boot 1.8 million people off of food stamps, but would knock 280,000 children off of the free school lunch program:

The legislation would restrict categorical eligibility to only households receiving cash assistance. Based on data from the Department of Agriculture, CBO estimates that about 1.8 million people per year, on average, would lose benefits if they were subject to SNAP’s income and asset tests. In addition, about 280,000 school-age children in those households would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals through their receipt of SNAP benefits. Assuming enactment on October 1, 2012, CBO estimates that this provision would lower direct spending by $11.5 billion over the 2012-2022 period.

These families’ free lunch benefits are tied to their receipt of SNAP funds. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, “A typical working family that qualifies for SNAP benefits due to categorical eligibility is a mother with two young children who has monthly earnings just above the program’s monthly gross income limit ($2,008 for a family of three in 2012).”

Republicans have mounted quite the campaign to convince the public that food stamp spending is somehow out of control, and this “compromise” bill buys into the worst of that rhetoric. Many House Democrats are voicing their objections. “This is a bill that robs the poor to pay the rich,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “This bill is an outrage.”