When Congress takes up the $140 billion farm bill, food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, could face funding cuts under a GOP push for welfare reform. Anti-hunger advocates are concerned that millions of Americans could lose access to healthy foods if SNAP benefits are reduced or eliminated.
Congress is expected to begin work on the $140 billion farm bill, but there are concerns that some conservatives are targeting nutrition programs for cuts. Food programs such as SNAP, WIC and school lunches are a big part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's budget, and advocates fear they could become a target.
"There seems to be a difference of opinion between House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell about whether they're going to do welfare reform,” said James Weill, the president of the Food Research and Action Center Ryan wants to, and McConnell doesn't, which sets a tone and a path that would affect the farm bill."
Weill said the recently passed tax bill is projected to result in a $1.5 trillion deficit in the federal budget over the next decade. He says some of the same Republicans who voted for the tax bill are now looking to cut social programs to shrink the deficit they created.
Weill said SNAP and other food-assistance plans make up about 70 percent of the USDA budget. He said while preserving those programs is the primary goal, some improvements are also needed.
"Agriculture committees have reasonably broad, bipartisan support for leaving the SNAP program largely alone, and not fixing the real problems,” Weill said. “Like benefits aren’t enough to get people through the month."
He said it's critical for lawmakers to understand the value of SNAP and the working people who benefit from the program.
"SNAP reaches into every community in America in a fundamentally important way,” Weill said. “Not only is SNAP profoundly important to the economy and the anti-hunger effort, but a lot of the stereotypes of who it is going to and how it affects communities are not quite right."
Weill said with several other major issues facing Congress, it could be spring before they take up the farm bill.