"Families who are living in poverty did not spend this nation into debt," says Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, "and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs."
That humane principle will guide the New York Democrat as she seeks to persuade colleagues to resist a proposed $4.1 billion cut in food stamps in an omnibus farm bill heading toward Senate agriculture committee vote.
The cut, spread over 10 years, is a lot less than the devastating $20 billion cut over the next decade the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee is considering.
Yet food stamps are already scheduled to take a hit when increases approved in the 2009 economic recovery act expire in November. The $4.1 billion reduction would result in an average cut of $90 per month for nearly 500,000 households nationwide, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.
It is especially galling that members of committee, led by Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., seem determined to hurt struggling families and children while perpetuating unnecessary benefits for big agriculture. Gillibrand would pay for restoring the trims to food benefits by lowering the subsidies to highly profitable crop insurance companies based overseas.
Some lawmakers complain that parts of the current law providing for enhanced food stamp benefits could be manipulated by states. But the program has very little fraud and, in any case, there is no justification for reducing benefits over all.
Allowing cuts in food stamps is the wrong position fiscally and morally, and a terrible strategy for beginning negotiations with the House.