In a close vote along party lines – 217 to 210 – the Republican U.S. House on September 19 approved $40 billion in cuts to SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor oversaw the writing of the plan for the cuts, which would take place over the next 10 years. The program would still cost more than $700 billion over that time, even if the cuts became law, which is unlikely given Senate and White House opposition.
The bill also requires adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find work or to enroll in a work-training program in order to participate, and it limits their eligibility for the program to three months.
Native American advocates are widely concerned, since poverty-stricken tribal citizens are highly dependent on the program, and even a small reduction in federal funding can have dramatic impacts.
“Many tribal communities are food deserts and SNAP cuts will only double the hardship some face to get access to food,” Jim Roberts, a policy analyst with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, told Indian Country Today Media Network in July. “Nutrition programs on reservations are already underfunded. The programs in many instances are the primary source of food for Indian families and their children.”
According to recent federal data, SNAP in 2008 served an average of 540,000 low-income people who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native alone and 260,000 who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native and White per month. The National Congress of American Indians highlights data that says 20 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native households receive food stamps.
The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, a federal program that provides U.S. Department of Agriculture foods to low-income Indian country-based households, would not be affected by the cuts. That program served approximately 80,000 individuals per month in fiscal year 2011, according to data gathered by the Obama administration.
In July the House passed a farm bill that left out funding for the food Stamp program altogether. Sixty-two Republicans joined Democrats in voting against that bill at the time, prompting Speaker John Boehner during a later closed meeting of House Republicans to say he was “pissed off,” a remark that was widely reported in the press. Tensions have only increased between him and his caucus since then.
The Senate in June passed a farm bill with a smaller cut to food stamps of one-half of one percent. Democratic senators are vowing to fight the House plan.
The food stamp program currently costs approximately $80 billion a year.