Planned cuts in food stamps decried

Posted: September 22, 2013

The vote by the House of Representatives on Thursday to slash billions from food stamps has rocked local advocates for the poor, who see the move as a potential blow to people already struggling to survive.

At the same time, advocates praised four local Republican congressmen who bucked their party and voted against the cuts.

And, during a lively day of reaction Friday, the majority of listeners to a popular Philadelphia-area radio show lauded the bill as the right thing to do.

The House bill, which would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years, passed in the House, 217-210. Just 15 Republicans voted against it.

Senate leaders say the bill has no chance of becoming law, and President Obama has vowed to veto it. But the Senate has also voted to cut food stamps, albeit by only 10 percent of the House version - $4 billion over 10 years.

That didn't dampen advocates' enthusiasm for the maverick moves by local Republicans.

"We're impressed by the courage of Congressmen Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith [of South Jersey] to address the need of the increasing numbers of hungry in New Jersey," said Pamela Pernot, spokeswoman for the Food Bank of South Jersey.

Similarly, fellow Republican U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan of Delaware County and Mike Fitzpatrick of Bucks County garnered thanks for their unwillingness to endorse the bill on food stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

"This was an outrageous vote, and it was really brave of the congressmen," said Julie Zaebst, policy manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

Zaebst said Pennsylvania would lose 121 million meals a year if the Republican bill became law.

In a statement, Fitzpatrick said 89 percent of the food stamps distributed in the Bucks County portion of his district were used by seniors and children "who may otherwise have nowhere else to turn."

And Jason Galanes, a spokesman for LoBiondo, said the congressman represents high-poverty Cumberland and Salem Counties and could not support the bill, being "keenly aware of the need and hurt in his district."

On Friday, advocates for the poor pointed out that census data released this week showed the need for SNAP benefits increased in the area, with poverty deepening in most of the Philadelphia suburbs.

Many of the people now receiving SNAP benefits are getting them for the first time, said George Matysik, director of government affairs for Philabundance, the hunger-relief agency.

They join others who face the real possibility of no longer being able to feed their children, said Steveanna Wynn, executive director of SHARE, a Philadelphia antihunger agency.

"How do they sleep at night?" Wynn wondered about the bill's supporters.

A central part of the bill is a strengthening of a SNAP requirement that adults without children find a job for at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a work-training program to receive benefits.

Currently, SNAP allows states to apply for waivers to the rule during times of high unemployment. Several states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have been using the waiver.

The bill was a main topic of discussion on Dom Giordano's radio program on WPHT-AM 1210 Friday. "This was more lively than ususal," Giordano said in an interview. "More people were praising the cuts to food stamps."

Many who support the bill, Giordano's listeners included, believe the $80 billion-a-year SNAP program is too big and too generous. And, said Giordano, who decribes himself as conservative, he and others are tired "of being called immoral and cruel" for wanting SNAP reined in.

"We don't want to scoop up hungry kids and not feed them," he said. "We just want to curtail the trend of people being on food stamps."


Contact Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com

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