The House plans to vote this week on a farm bill that cuts nearly $21 billion from food stamps, and several members who support the cuts have benefited significantly from the various forms of farm subsidies provided by the same legislation.
The ten Republicans in question have collected about $6.7 million in federal farm money dating back to the 1990s, according to analysis by the Environmental Working Group. Over the years, they’ve also justified cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) with a variety of smears against recipients and misrepresentations of the program’s nature and performance. Rep. Stephen Fincher’s (R-TN) erroneous biblical argument for cuts that would knock two million Americans off of food aid drew attention last month given that he’s gotten nearly $3.5 million in farm subsidies over the years. But some of his colleagues deserve similar scrutiny for their apparent hypocrisy with regard to the House farm bill.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), who’s gotten over $500,000 in subsidy payments since 1995, is a particularly interesting case. While Noem is diplomatic in most public statements on food stamps, she endorses a common smear of the program when away from cameras. In a constituent letter obtained by ThinkProgress, Noem wrote that “loopholes and fraud in the current program have lead to federal spending on SNAP to increase [sic] by 270 percent over the past ten years.” Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO) offers to same rationale for the cuts, and has taken $500,000 in farm subsidies as well.
In fact, the jump in food stamp enrollment is due almost entirely to the catastrophic economic collapse and ensuing Great Recession. Even amid that heightened strain on the program’s staff, “SNAP achieved its lowest error rates on record in fiscal year 2011,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Outright fraud is down to just one percent.
Waste, fraud, and abuse are more common in the farm subsidies programs that have sent over a million taxpayer dollars to the Hartzler and Noem households over the years than in food stamps. Crop insurance alone has a 4.7 percent error rate, compared to 3.8 percent for SNAP.
Other common rationales from this group of would-be SNAP cutters fare no better under scrutiny. Many conservatives believe charities and individuals can better serve the hungry. But as ThinkProgress has noted, food charities say they are already beyond their capacity and cannot step into the breach the House bill would leave. Conservative objections to policies that expand SNAP eligibility to families just above the program’s cutoff level of 130 percent of the poverty line look less righteous when you consider that 8 in 10 hungry American children live in households with income up to 185 percent of the poverty line.
And while Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s (R-IN) suggestion that America’s poor amount to budget fat in need of trimming is a philosophical question, the question of dependency he raised in a 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing food stamps has no basis in fact.
ThinkProgress intern Kumar Ramanathan contributed research to this post.