Lawmakers recognizing need for food stamps may block Trump from cutting program by $4.6B

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Nearly 700,000 people living in the five-county Philadelphia region use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits known as food stamps. (Bigstock/Style-Photographs)

Nearly 700,000 people living in the five-county Philadelphia region use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits known as food stamps. (Bigstock/Style-Photographs)

While advocates for the poor are raising the alarm about President Donald Trump’s proposal for major cuts to food stamps, he may have trouble getting members of Congress to go along with that — and not just Democrats.

“Members of Congress, in general, are actually quite supportive of the … program,” said Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University.

Trump’s 2018 budget, released Tuesday, calls for cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP by $4.6 billion next year. The administration also wants to cut SNAP by $191 billion over the next decade.

Nearly 700,000 or roughly 16 percent of those living in the five-county Philadelphia region use food stamps, according to the most recent data available. The program also benefits 405,529 residents in New Jersey and 143,020 in Delaware.

Trump’s proposal has advocates — including the Philadelphia-based Coalition Against Hunger — worried.

Coalition member Vernessa Wilson runs the food pantry at Mizpah Seventh-day Adventist Church in Philadelphia. On three Tuesdays a month, the pantry serves 75 to 120 people, many of them senior citizens on fixed incomes.

“They come because they need that extra food that we give them to help take care of their families,” said Wilson. “A lot of our clients are on food stamps, and they depend on those food stamps.”

But the reality may not be so dire.

While Republican leaders have supported smaller cuts in the past — and congressional squabbling resulted in the end of recession-era increases — the program is supported by lawmakers in rural and urban areas where unemployment is higher and good-paying jobs are harder to come by, especially for the poor.

The House agriculture committee — chaired by U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas — recently finished a two-year review of SNAP that found the program is generally working well and “essential in protecting the most vulnerable citizens during tough times.”

But Trump may have support for another element of his proposal: to tighten the work requirements attached to SNAP for able-bodied adults without dependent children. 

The agriculture committee’s final report expressed concern the states are not adequately enforcing those conditions.

“States must engage in greater oversight of the enforcement of general work requirements to ensure those who can work do,” the report said. “At the federal level, the way states enforce the work requirements must be taken into account to ensure that this can be done with administrative ease.”

Right now, those able-bodied adults without dependants can receive three months’ worth of food stamps every three years unless they work or participate in job training 20 hours a week. In parts of the country where unemployment is high, including Philadelphia and several other counties in Pennsylvania, the federal government has waived the work requirements.

One possibility is that Trump could move to do away with those waivers to reduce the number of people eligible to enroll in the program.

If that happens, Chilton said, the results could be devastating.

“I think it’s actually time to look at our social programs and find really creative and innovative ways to revolutionize and improve our programs, but the one program that we really should not be touching is the SNAP program,” she said. “This is not the way to approach (reform) by basically destroying the safety net.”

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