WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Rep. Frank Lucas on Tuesday urging him to protect food stamp funding as the House Agriculture Committee looks to cut spending.
Lucas, R-Cheyenne, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the food stamp program because it is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Republicans have been seeking changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, pointing to an explosion in costs in recent years.
The budget passed by House Republicans requires the Agriculture Committee to make cuts to programs under its jurisdiction. The panel is scheduled to take up a proposal Wednesday to cut $33 billion from the food stamp program in the next 10 years. The committee says that would be a 4 percent cut in that time.
The bishops' letter, also sent to Rep. Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, the committee's top Democrat, states that, instead of cutting programs that serve “poor and hungry people,” the committee should target farm subsidies.
“SNAP, also known as food stamps, helps feed millions of households; 76 percent of which include a child, senior, or disabled person and many include workers who cannot provide sufficient nutrition for their families,” the letter states.
“At this time of economic turmoil and growing poverty, the committee should oppose cuts in this effective and efficient anti-hunger program that helps people live in dignity.
“If savings need to be achieved, cuts to agricultural subsidies and direct payments should be considered before cutting ... programs that help feed poor and vulnerable people.”
Committee spokeswoman Tamara Hinton said the proposal to be taken up Wednesday “closes loopholes and protects the integrity of the program so that those families truly in need will continue to be served. Any household who qualifies for SNAP will continue to be eligible for and receive benefits from the program.”
Participation in SNAP has risen from 33.5 million people in 2009 to 45 million last year. In Oklahoma, the state Department of Human Services reported in October that participation was setting records each month; more than 625,000 Oklahomans — and more than 30 percent of all children in the state — received the benefits in September, department officials said.
Nationally, the cost of the program has increased from $54 billion in 2009 to $76 billion in 2011.
Participants received an increase in monthly benefits as part of the 2009 stimulus bill. That is set to expire next year, but the House Republican budget would end it this year.
House Republicans also would change the rules to end practices used in some states to increase food stamp benefits.