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Bishop urges House to resist cutting, restructuring nutrition programs

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By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The House must resist changes that would weaken the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other federal nutrition initiatives, said the head of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I write to urge you to resist harmful changes and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., in a July 10 letter to members of the House.

Cuts to SNAP, once known as food stamps, were four times bigger in the House version of the farm bill than in the Senate version.

The House voted down the farm bill in June, and observers cited the size of the SNAP cuts as one reason behind the bill’s defeat.

House Republican leadership then split the bill, forcing a vote July 11 — the day after it was introduced — on an agriculture-only measure that would accept no amendments. The nutrition and agricultural sections of the farm bill have long been joined together in an effort to amass votes from urban and rural lawmakers for each other’s interests, but the House leadership said it would dealing later with nutrition issues. The agriculture measure passed 216-208.

“Although the USCCB does not take a position on the procedures or processes for advancing this important agriculture legislation, the House must prevent cuts and harmful structural changes to nutrition programs such as SNAP that will harm hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who are underemployed or unable to find employment,” Bishop Blaire said.

“How the House addresses these concerns has profound human and moral consequences.”

Outlays for SNAP and other nutrition assistance doubled over the past five years. Although the situation has abated somewhat, it would take another five years at current rates for the economy to restore the number of jobs lost during the 2007-09 recession, and the monthly unemployment figures do not take into account those too discouraged to look for work.

The Senate version of the farm bill, which passed the upper chamber, cut SNAP benefits by $5 billion over 10 years, a reduction of 0.5 percent. The House cuts would have totaled $20 billion over five years.

President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the farm bill if the failed House version reached his desk, in part because of the large SNAP cuts. The White House issued a new veto threat July 11 over the split bill.

Even some lobby groups and think tanks usually aligned with Republicans have voiced their displeasure with the split bill. Some object to breaking up coalitions that have lasted nearly a half-century. Others are suspicious that a House-Senate conference committee to reconcile each chamber’s versions of the farm bill would restore nutrition funding they’d rather see eliminated.

“Adequate and nutritious food is a basic need and a fundamental human right that is integral to protecting the life and dignity of the human person. SNAP is one of the most effective and important federal programs to combat hunger in the nation by helping to feed millions of persons in need every year,” Bishop Blaire said.

“In 2011, SNAP lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. With continued high unemployment and a struggling economy, the need for adequate funding levels for SNAP and other nutrition programs is essential,” he added.

“This is a crucial time to build a more just framework that puts poor and hungry people first. I respectfully urge you to reject efforts to reduce or restructure SNAP and pursue the common good in agriculture and food policy that works from a genuine preferential option for the poor.”

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