The 5 Worst GOP Food Stamp Amendments (And The Democratic Response)

The House will debate a variety of amendments to the farm bill on Wednesday, including one that would replace the bill’s $20.5 billion in cuts to food stamps with cuts to farm subsidies. In contrast with that amendment, sponsored by Rep. George McGovern (D-MA) and more than 80 other Democrats, Republicans are offering a variety of tweaks that would deepen the cuts and heighten the humiliation for food stamp recipients. MSNBC’s Morgan Whitaker highlighted some of the proposals, and here are the five worst of the lot:

Making food stamp recipients pee in a cup. One Republican amendment would make enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) contingent on passing a drug test. The idea has been in vogue among conservative opponents of safety net programs in recent years, from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) to Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). In Scott’s case, drug testing welfare recipients has cost Florida taxpayers more money than it’s saved.

Cut food stamp funding to 2008 levels. Frustrated at the elevated cost of keeping Americans minimally fed amid elevated unemployment rates and falling wages, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) suggests simply capping the program’s spending at 2008 levels. Doing so would double the current SNAP cuts in the farm bill, but more importantly it would fundamentally undermine a program that’s designed to be flexible in response to economic hardships.

Cut food stamp funding altogether. Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R-TX) very short amendment would eliminate SNAP outright.

Ban violent felons from food stamp rolls for life. Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-MO) amendment undermines a basic premise of the criminal justice system. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’s Robert Greenstein wrote about a similar effort in the Senate, “The amendment essentially says that rehabilitation doesn’t matter and violates basic norms of criminal justice.” Among other negative unintended consequences, the existing lifetime bans for drug felony convictions “actually pushed young mothers into prostitution in order to feed their families,” as Aviva Shen wrote previously in ThinkProgress.

Convert food stamp funds to block grants. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) has an amendment that would convert federal SNAP money to block grants, removing all federal standards about how it’s spent. Block granting sounds innocuous, but would in fact lead to the same sort of cuts and reduced flexibility that Mulvaney’s spending caps would cause. That’s because block granting rewrites the formula for how much money states get and prevents funding from rising to meet demand. Block granting was the central change of the welfare reform of the 1990s, and it’s prevented the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from keeping up with the jump in needy families during the Great Recession.

By contrast, the McGovern amendment would cut farm subsidies that seem designed to guarantee payments to the industrial farms that dominate American agriculture. As written, the House bill would raise subsidy levels for corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, wheat, and peanuts dramatically above their current levels.

In the case of the Japonica rice used in sushi restaurants, farmers would receive payouts if prices fell below 115 percent of current average prices – meaning that anything less than a 15 percent increase in prices would trigger payments supposedly aimed at getting farmers through tough times. “I wish that poor people would be treated as well as sushi rice in this farm bill,” McGovern told Agri-Pulse on Tuesday, “but they are not.” McGovern’s office says the cuts to these and other subsidy provisions of the bill would not only pay for replacing the SNAP funds, but provide an additional $12 billion in savings.