Food stamp cuts would hurt poor, immigrants

News Analysis

Congressional Republicans have gone on a budget-slashing rampage, working to ram through drastic cuts in food stamps and other basic social safety net programs, drawing such wide opposition even some of their own members are objecting.

The GOP cuts are widely seen as unfairly targeting the poor, disadvantaged, elderly and children. They will especially affect the nation’s fast-growing immigrant population.

The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill Oct. 28 cutting 300,000 people off the Food Stamp Program. The bill also proposes major cuts in other much-needed federal assistance programs for low-income families such as Medicaid, the Child Support Enforcement Program, the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) for poor people who are elderly or have serious disabilities, and the Foster Care Program.

The Senate has okayed $36 billion in budget cuts and House Republicans are trying to pass nearly $54 billion in cuts. Facing resistance from Democrats as well as some Republicans, GOP leaders are discussing options to “fine-tune” the measure to avert a defeat.

As the Republican leadership campaigns to slash federal programs for the poor, they are continuing to press extension of tax breaks for the rich. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to unveil proposals amounting to around $60 billion in tax giveaways.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that 38.2 million people live in households that were “food insecure” in 2004.

Twenty percent of the U.S. low-wage work force is composed of immigrants who work in the fields, janitorial services, childcare and other low-paid, low- or no-benefit jobs.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the food stamp cuts alone will terminate nearly 70,000 legal immigrants from nutritional assistance programs. Under the current program, a “legal” immigrant has to live in the United States for five years before becoming eligible to receive food stamps. The new bill would expand that waiting period to seven years.

The CBO also estimates that about 40,000 children would lose eligibility for free or reduced-priced school lunches.

In 2002 Bush signed the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, allowing some restoration of Food and Nutrition Services aid for some immigrants. Prior to this, most immigrant families were restricted from participating. When Bush signed the 2002 measure, he called it a “compassionate bill.” Now, however, the Bush administration appears to think funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq takes priority over such “compassion.” Interestingly, those potentially affected by the new GOP cuts include 64,000 U.S. soldiers who are immigrants.

“These are lawful residents, good enough to die for our country in Iraq but not good enough to get food stamps,” Jennifer Ng’andu, a health and social policy analyst with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), told the Washington Post.

Observers note that congressional Republicans are using the charge of “out-of-control deficit-spending” to attack government human needs programs even as they back huge expenditures on the Iraq war and corporate handouts for Gulf coast hurricane cleanup. Many note the contradiction is complicating efforts by GOP conservatives to push their “starve the government” agenda.

NCLR and the Coalition on Human Needs are urging the public to call their congressional representatives and ask them to support full funding for the food stamp program and protection of food stamps for immigrants. Members of Congress can be reached at the Capitol Hill switchboard, (202) 224-3121.