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GOP Attempt to Slash Food Stamps Eligibility Would Hurt Flagler and Florida Families

| July 23, 2012

If Republicans get their way, the food stamps program as it is now now could become as much a relic as these old food stamp books. (NCReedplayer)

If Republicans get their way, the food stamps program as it is now now could become as much a relic as these old food stamp books. (NCReedplayer)

As Congress considers a farm bill that could slash federal food assistance, Florida – with nearly 18 percent of its residents relying on that help – could find its poor still further submerged beneath the poverty line.

Last week the U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed a bill containing $16 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. That would be a reduction more than three times larger than a proposed $4.5 billion reduction in the Senate version.

Since 2007, before the recession, the number of Florida residents receiving food assistance has more than doubled, said Rebecca Brislain, executive director of the Florida Association of Food Banks.

“The amount of money people get on SNAP doesn’t meet all their food needs,” Brislain said. “There’s no way charitable programs could fill the gap.”

Lack of regular access to food in Florida households grew from 9 percent in 2007 to 16.1 percent, or 1,214,000 households, in 2010, according to the Food Research Action Center in Washington, D.C.

In Flagler County, the proportion of people on food stamps is actually smaller than the national average. Just 9 percent of the local population is on food stamps. But that’s still a 98 percent increase from five years ago, and among children, the rate is 23 percent, which is not much better than most parts of Appalachia.

Food stamps also help local food merchants. Second Harvest North Florida last year launched an initiative in Flagler County called the Mobile Benefits Program, this year paid mostly with $40,000 in tax dollars through the Flagler County Commission, to help enroll as many people eligible for food stamps as possible. Doing so increases the food in needy people’s pantries while increasing the amount of federal dollars cycling through the local economy. Second Harvest estimated last year that up to 3,000 Flagler households were eligible for food stamps but not receiving them.

“A lot of people are struggling,” said Don Winstead, a former state administrator who led Florida’s overhaul of its food stamp payment system. “Anything that reduces the amount of SNAP assistance adds to their struggle.”

The extent of the cuts is by no means certain. The farm bill is being hotly debated, and House Speaker John Boehner may not bring the Agriculture Committee’s version to the floor before the November election. GOP leaders on Friday decided not to schedule it for a floor vote next week, leaving only four legislative days to consider the $957 billion package before Congress recesses in August. Farm programs funded by the measure expire Sept. 30.

In mid-June, the U.S. Senate voted on a similar proposal. Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky—a state with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation—introduced a proposal to cut food stamp spending almost by half. He would have also transformed the program from an entitlement to a block grant, which means states would have received a set amount of money regardless of economic conditions, and states would have decided how to spend their share of the money.

The Paul proposal failed by a substantial 65 to 33 margin, with 13 Republicans joining Democrats to turn it back. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, voted to end the food stamps program as it is now known, and do to food stamps what Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress did to welfare 15 years ago. (In Florida, there are fewer people on welfare today than there were when the law was enacted, even though Florida’s population increased by 25 percent and the state has been in depression for four years.)

The food stamp legislation is opposed by people of differing political persuasions, from those who think it cuts too much to those who think it doesn’t cut enough.

If the House version were to prevail, it would reduce federal spending by $35 billion over ten years. The Senate version saves $23 billion, the difference entirely due to the chambers’ respective food stamps reductions.


The food stamps cuts could affect Florida in several ways.

First, the House bill, in a variation on the Rand Paul bill in the Senate, would eliminate the practice of “categorical eligibility.” Florida is one of 40 states to use the so-called “cat-el,” a holdover from the 1996 welfare reform legislation that allows families to automatically qualify for food stamps by participating in other programs for the poor, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, and vice versa.

If the “cat-el” goes, for instance, children whose families receive food stamps would no longer be automatically eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 280,000 children nationwide would be affected. That doesn’t mean they won’t be eligible at all – just that their families might not know they’re eligible, or could encounter barriers to applying.

According to Matt Joyner, director of federal affairs for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, more than 1.4 million Florida children now get a free lunch at school and 226,000 get lunch at a reduced payment.

“When Congress decides,” Joyner said, “we will make sure we reach every child that qualifies.”

Second, federal bonuses to states for accuracy in making food stamp payments would be eliminated. Florida is now in its fifth straight year of receiving such bonuses, a total of $39.3 million since 2008. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this year’s $9.1 million award earlier this month. The Legislature has discretion in spending the bonuses, some of which have gone to the Department of Children and Families for technology upgrades to the payment system.

The House bill would eliminate those bonuses.

Of the food banks’ 3.5 million Florida clients, 38 percent are children. One third of client households have at least one person working. Fifty percent of clients say they’ve had to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities, while 48 percent say they’ve had to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage.

The farm bill, which has to be renewed every five years, isn’t limited to food assistance, but includes a wide range of issues.

That’s why it needs to come up for a vote, said Florida Congressman Tom Rooney, chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry, who supports the House bill.

Rooney said the bill would address drought conditions and strengthen farm insurance coverage.

“Droughts across the country, including Florida, are hurting farmers and driving up grocery prices for American families,” Rooney said in a statement. “We can’t change the weather, but we can pass a farm bill to make sure farmers have the tools and support they need to continue producing a safe, abundant and affordable food supply.”

But the fight in Congress is expected to be heavily focused on food assistance, with the possibility of deeper cuts to food stamps after the November election.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive

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43 Responses for “GOP Attempt to Slash Food Stamps Eligibility Would Hurt Flagler and Florida Families”

  1. Karen Persan says:

    Food stamps should be a last resort for families in need. I say if you can afford luxuries such as name brand clothing, trips to the movies, playing extracurricular sports, numerous pets, jewelery, expensive hair-do’s, iPods, smart phones, internet, cable tv, manicures and pedicures, hunting equipment, vacations, ETC ETC, then you should not be eligible for food stamps. Yes, I think that until a family has exhausted all other resources they should not be eligible.

    • Witchy Mamma says:

      Great… but what does that have to do with this article. Yes, there are people out there that abuse the system. I know I’ve been in line at the grocery story behind someone with a designer bag, an iphone, name brand clothes and a fancy nail job, and then astonished when they pull out their EBT card to pay. But that doesn’t mean the whole program should be scrapped. There are plenty of families out there than can use it, that are honest when applying for them. Families that have no other option, and this whole article is highlighting how that resource could be taken away from them. That as tough as times are now, they could get worse because the GOP would rather have a country of starving children and families than give up a dime from their own salaries. That we have to spend exponentially more money than the rest of the world on defense measures rather than taking care of the people, so that they can line their pockets with lobby money and contract profits. And the same can be said for the healthcare industry.

      Don’t deflect the point of this article by blaming the small percentage that abuse it. Realize that this would hurt more than it would help the people of this country.

    • Lonewolf says:

      So Karen, are you going to check to see if any of these items have been purchased by food stamp recipients? Just imagine how many people it would take to check that out…

    • Anonymous says:

      No it’s not fair that those who can buy luxurious items are entitled to the stamps. I’m more concerned with the children of these recipients not eating healthy which leads to obesity or malnutrition. I would like to see all the junk foods and sodas restricted from food stamps just as the wic program have restrictions. This would at least be a step in the right direction for healthier eating habits. Obesity leads to many illnesses which leads to healthcare cost.

    • Ladee D says:

      Really, what economy are you living in? Wages for most American are so low, it’s takes the state to subsidize the income with food stamps. Companies getting richer and families getting poorer..”The new American way” according to the politics of the tea partiers..

  2. Flagler Native says:

    This has been a long time coming. Food comes before luxuries or automobile rims and/or paint. Honestly, my opinion is..if a couple can’t afford food then they shouldn’t be allowed to have kids. It’s a parents natural born duty to feed their children. I swear the day I couldn’t feed my kids I’d throw myself off the pier, and give my kids to foster care or a family member. I’m glad to see it getting harder to take the Flagler government and the SNAP program for a cheap ride.

    • Yellowstone says:

      You and your familly hungry? Still got healthcare? How about that unemployment check? Thank those good ole boys in the House of Representatives.

      This is a great idea! If you can’t intimidate ‘those’ people then let’s starve’em so they can’t VOTE – even if if they could.

      This world was made for the ‘job creators’ and their theories. These theories have provided the biggest prosperity (for some). And for the rest of us, for the last 8 years, with questionable results. Like, “What happened to my job?”

      If you want anything – just wait. Things will eventually trickle down to you. Ha . . .

      Or, you can remember to go Vote this time!

    • FL resident says:

      You do realize that people have children, fall on hard times (lose a job, death of a spouse, etc) and apply for food stamps. It is not always the scenario but it is an absolute scenario that happens. You say the day you “couldnt feed your kids you would throw yourself off the pier and give your kids to foster care” don’t you realize foster care is not free???? Someone who thinks suicide is an answer to a temporary problem, should re-think things, imo.

    • Anonymous says:

      obviously you’ve never lost your job either due to no fault of your own and have had to search and search for a job only to be either over-qualified, under-qualified, or just part time available. So yea, throwing yourself off the pier and giving your children to foster care would be the best thing to do. Never mind that kids are actually smart enough to know that when there truly is rough spots, they’ll pull together as a family and hurt just as much as you do.

  3. Clint says:

    We are two years away from total melt down in America. When the droughts cause all the farm land to dry up and cost of food skyrockets to 6 times as much as today’s prices, then there will be riots and major chaos in every city. Start planning now before it gets bad.

  4. question says:

    And the chubby 1% responds rather unfavorably to the bone thin 99ers … http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/copping/15.jpg …half of whom voted for the chubby 1 so they seem to have squandered their ‘vote’ for any mooorre.

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      “bone thin 99ers …” yet 35% of all U.S. adults (78 million people) are obese? Hmmm. How do you reconcile this?

  5. Jim. R says:

    Flagler Native
    Nothing bad like losing a job could ever happen to you because you work hard and do everything right. Only lazy people are poor and jobless. Isnt that the way you see it?

    • Flagler Native says:

      Actually NO that isn’t the way I see it. My husband and I work our a$$es off so that we can pay our taxes and then people that own “donked” cars with candy paint jobs and 28 inch rims can take our tax dollars and make US end up in the poor house. Obviously, you think the current way of “Fleecing Flagler” is OK. Bad things can and will happen and they have happened to us. But you have to pick yourself up and do whatever job you can wherever you may need to go to do so. Some people are just plain lazy and using other people’s tax dollars is what they do best. I say ABSOLUTELY make it harder to get those stamps!

      • carol says:

        Flagler Native , you sure are bitter, i am a Flagler native also and my husband and i have never been on food stamps or welfare and we also pay our taxes etc; every year also, but there are so many young people that just dont have jobs now, that had jobs when they had their children. A lot of people in this county have fallen on hard times and I think the Food Stamp program is a God send for so many family’s. I don’t mind my tax money going to help my fellow man or neighbors children. Yes there are abusers of any public support program just as the Doctors are greedy for the Medicare funds, I think we’ve all seen and heard about doctors taking more than their share of the Medicare funds, but you don’t stop a good program that is helping people, the government needs to fix what is wrong in the program, and listen to people that report abuses.

  6. question says:

    and Karen Persan,

    Absolutely right…the OUTRAGE!!!

    The Heritage Foundation: Poor people today aren’t really poor enough.
    A recently released study points out that poor people are really kind of rich — they even have fancy appliances like refrigerators and coffee-makers.

    According to data presented, over 99% of poor families have refrigerators, a whopping 87% have microwaves, and nearly 70% have ceiling fans. The poor today “live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.”

    Go grab your pitchfork and let’s remove these gluttonous luxuries. How dare they! Those over thirty-million Americans living in poverty according to the U.S. Census Report.

  7. Geezer says:

    There’s a lot of abusers to the system – but you don’t throw the baby away with the bathwater!
    Here in our part of the world, the poor, the old, and the sick are the first line in cost-cutting.
    That is just plain WRONG.

    Florida would rather you die or move away than to pay you a penny in medical care or food stamps.

    So you folks who applaud this, maybe we should just exterminate the poor.

  8. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Brislain said. “There’s no way charitable programs could fill the gap.”, Well under the current system, this is probably an accurate statement. But some, myself included, would argue that this is a direct result of the federal government being involved in an area which has no basis in the constitution, in the first place. We have this misguided assumption that IF there were no Government food stamp program, hungry people would starve. But it’s misguided for two main reasons. 1) There is a reason the food assistance is a big part of the farm bill, and that reason is not to feed hungry people, it is simply to buy votes and placate the farm lobby in the same manner corn based ethanol subsidies do. (how’s that working out for us??? World food prices soar, and we spend more energy producing a less efficient fuel source! ) 2)Charity in both the organized (Church, community groups etc) form and unorganized form (Friends/family etc) are not going to get overly involved in an area where that the Government already almost exclusively occupies. To put it simply, it’s harder for a food bank to convince Johnny Taxpayer to donate, when he’s already paying a significant amount in taxes to “in theory” alleviate hunger. The problem however is the Government’s overhead rate for administering food programs is much higher than most well run charities. So every $1 in taxes paid to alleviate hunger likely only results in a dime’s worth of food going into a hungry child’s mouth, where as a well run charity can take that $1 and deliver 90 or 95 cents worth of food. Get the Government out of the “war on hunger” (more and more money spent, yet hunger rates continue to grow) and allow charities and families to take care of the need and you will see hunger rates drop.

  9. question says:

    Austerity’s Big Winners Prove To Be Wall Street And The Wealthy
    Posted: 07/23/2012 1:03 pm

    WASHINGTON — The poor and middle classes have shouldered by far the heaviest burdens of the global political obsession with austerity policies over the past three years. In the United States, budget cuts have forced states to reduce education, public transportation, affordable housing and other social services. In Europe, welfare cuts have driven some severely disabled individuals to fear for their lives.

    But the austerity game also has winners. Cutting or eliminating government programs that benefit the less advantaged has long been AN IDEOLOGICAL GOAL OF CONSERVATIVES. Doing so also generates a tidy windfall for the corporate class, as government services are privatized and savings from austerity pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens.

    U.S. financial interests that stand to gain from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security cutbacks “have been the core of the big con,” the “propaganda,” that those programs are in crisis and must be slashed, said James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/austerity-wall-street_n_1690838.html

    • Magnolia says:

      William Jefferson Clinton cut many from the welfare rolls. It is how he balanced the federal budget.

      Do your biting comments apply to him as well?

      • carol says:

        I liked Ole Bill as president but he sure did some harmful things to this country like passing the NAFTA bill, that was the beginning of a lot of our woes today. Out sourcing jobs to other countries etc;

  10. Karma says:

    With the cost of cable,cell phones and jewelry spiraling out of control. Please, take the advice of this lovely woman looking her best at all times because of Food Stamps. Only the government could make it sound so great. Where can I apply?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1nv8G6UFfc

  11. initialjoe says:

    You’re right, it should go shelter, water food. Everything else is pure lavish living. I have no money do buy groceries, but I don’t consider myself poor. I have a tv with rabbit ears and electricity!

    Food stamps, to me, help low wage people to deal with the high cost of food. And when I mean food I don’t mean oreos. Good healthy food is what america should be eating, and all I see is obese americans buying unhealthy food with food stamps. The food stamp program should be limited to healthy foods only. Oreos are not food.

    • Witchy Mamma says:

      I absolutely agree with this as well. Instead of allowing them the ability to buy unhealthy foods that lead to further issues, they should be scaling it back to just the basics. Vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats. Oreos, fruity puffs, soda and ice cream shouldn’t be allowed to be purchased on food stamps. But… what would it take to regulate that sort of thing? Maybe that’s the discussion we should be having?

    • Nancy N. says:

      You know why you see poor people buying unhealthy food with food stamps? Because unhealthy food is CHEAPER than healthy food! Have you ever looked in the produce section and compared the price per serving there to the price per serving of junk food? Fattening food costs less than healthy food. When you are on an extremely limited budget you can’t afford to buy things like lean chicken breasts – you have to go for the super fatty ground beef. Soda is way cheaper per ounce than juice. And on, and on…

      And as for food stamp recipients not being allowed to purchase things like oreos and ice cream…are you really going to look a little kid in the face and say “your mommy and daddy are poor so I say you can’t have dessert.” SERIOUSLY? That’s just heartless and mean.

      I find it super ironic that the same people who want government out of people’s lives on this issue entirely (ie by eliminating this program) are the same ones that want government to micromanage what is in people’s fridges. Which is it…do you want government in or out of this issue?

      • Witchy Mamma says:

        First off, I’ll agree with you on the fact that unhealthy food is cheaper than the healthier. However, I’m sure the difference is more than made up in their health costs.

        As for the oreo’s and ice cream… absolutely. Its not heartless, its life. Give them an apple or some yogurt. Its what my children have for desert and they have no problems with it at all. And they are healthier for it. Your argument has no merit here.

        • carol says:

          How about requiring a course in nutrition before Food Stamps can be issued. How many kids that are now adults and parents, grown up on fast food and junk food. I think a lot of the food purchasers just dont know what good nutrition is.

  12. another voice says:

    The greed and heartlessness and judgment passed down by some of you who “work your A**ES off” and you got yours–so everyone else is milking the system if they don’t look like ragamuffins in the checkout line?

    I made 50k a year until 2010. I used to buy “designer clothes” and I damn well still have some of them. Do I need to dress like a pauper to go to the grocery store because someone might judge me two years later when my job was outsourced by the likes of Bain Capital and I’m now unemployed and on food stamps?

    How completely callous, venal and stupid. I pray people like you don’t EVER lose your jobs. Because you’ll fall apart out of short-sightedness the minute you have to reinvent yourself–and God will have to give me extra strength to keep from pointing back and you and saying “karma is a beotch….” And there will be nothing for you when the 401k and the IRA and the savings run out, and I will not be sorry in the least for you.

  13. Eileen says:

    Solving poverty with government is like sobering up with whiskey shots

  14. ricky says:

    These continued intitlements the government gives out without any controls takes away the insentive to go out and get a real job..

  15. Outsider says:

    I know several people who work in grocery stores and the abuse stories I hear are very real. A man buys ice cream, chips, and cakes for a “big” party, all on food stamps. A person with a cellphone, jewelry and nice clothes throwing the WIC check at the clerk because she told the customer she couldn’t buy those particular items with the WIC check. I personally saw a woman go and buy two big gulps, bottles of sugary drinks and chips, for a total of 13 bucks and put it on the EBT card. And then there’s the ones who buy all the right stuff on the EBT cards, only to pay cash for the beer and cigarettes. If hard-working people really need it, fine, but using it to supplement a comparatively lavish lifestyle is a croc.

  16. Lonewolf says:

    Let’s face it the GOP wants to cut off food stamps because the poor are mostly DEMS.

  17. patty says:

    What a bunch of heartless meanies some of the posters sound like. Nobody said the program was perfect nor are all the people receiving the benefit, perfect people . Does that mean that a old lady in a wheel chair or a young boy suffering from some ailment should be deprived and get off their butts and go to work (which they cant even if they wanted to cos able bodied people cant find work in this economy) just beause some people are misusing the program?

  18. BW says:

    In my opinion these types of debates and the obsession to “be right” is irresponsible. These are issues that need mature and serious discussion. We are talking about poverty and the accessibility to one of our most basic needs . . . food. The discussion is also about the very real economic concern that support for those impoverished can only go on so long at which point aid will not be available in the future.

    The conversation needs to shift to why are so many people living in poverty? Why are so many people unable to feed their children without assistance? What can we do to change that? We can dole out soup in the line but if we never ask why that person is there in line in the first place we have really done less to help than more.

    • Witchy Mamma says:

      I absolutely agree with this. But… when government is run by the rich and for the rich, the poor get no representation or consideration. The rich get richer because the poor get poorer… until we take money out of politics none of this will change.

  19. GoodFella says:

    Get a life people, food stamps are only for those who know how to milk the system. You have to drive a donked out car and live in public housing because they just lost there 50k job being a street pharmacist.

  20. Outsider says:

    Excellent question, BW. A big part of the answer is that welfare programs, which SHOULD be temporary assistance for sudden and unexpected circumstances, have become a way of life for generations of people who are not held accountable for their own actions. We insulate people from consequences in this country, and that precipitates a very predictable result: millions of people dependent on government assistance. Aside from the folks who have truly come upon hard times through no fault of their own, nothing will change until we stop people from jumping directly into the safety net and make them walk the high wire.

  21. Dorothea says:

    Outsider

    Get with the program. You are still thinking about welfare under the old AFDC rules, which hasn’t been in effect since 1996 when President Clinton changed the rules with the Welfare Reform Act. Here are some of the provisions:

    Ending welfare as an entitlement program;
    Requiring recipients to begin working after two years of receiving benefits;
    Placing a lifetime limit of five years on benefits paid by federal funds;
    Aiming to encourage two-parent families and discouraging out-of-wedlock births.
    Enhancing enforcement of child support.

    Sure there are a few people cheating the system, but so do doctors, banks, and our governor. However, this is not about welfare, but about food stamps. Many of the people receiving foods stamps are the working poor. Here is how food stamp allotments are figured:

    http://www.ehow.com/how_6668733_calculate-food-stamp-allottment.html

    • Lisa says:

      I lost my job in April. Immediately started looking. I went from having a comfy enough life, not rich, but doing ok. I quickly realized wow there’s no jobs out there and what there is it’s part time or someone else better suited whether it be over qualified or under. I’ve since applied for unemployment, sold pretty much everything I have to just basics and hit some food banks just to stay ahead, Unemployment sadly only goes so far and I’m now so far behind on everything it’s laughable. Actually I’m surprised I still even have internet, God Bless brighthouse I suppose on that but they can only go so long. Got alot of used beat up given stuff now since sold anything of value. It’s all good though,. So for all you haters who wear your blinders and can’t understand how someone can even go for foodstamps, take a day and walk the other side. Lose your job and try to find another. Even a lesser paying job and give up all those precious things you have. I just applied for food stamps this week and let me tell you I finally had to swallow my pride. I’ve survived to this point but a person can only take so much spaghetti and peanut butter. I’ve learned to be simple but a bit of meat every now and then would be nice. As for all those nice clothes you might see someone wearing, well what do you want them to do? Go naked? Maybe just maybe they had those clothes prior to their demise or quite possibly, gone to the thrift store and found a great deal. Covers doesn’t always tell what’s on the inside. I’m currently waiting on taking a state test IF that ever gets resolved so this whole food stamp business hopefully is just short term. But I sure didn’t expect this to take this long and or possibly being scammed by a company that is beating around the bush with me. SO yea, the unexpected has happened, and wow just a few months ago I didn’t have to worry about a frigging piece of meat! Thank God for winn dixie and the blow outs they have sometimes on meats. still 10 doesn’t go very far in my family.

  22. CHERIE SERJEANT says:

    I had to reapply for food stamps. the system seems kind of screwy to me. I pay bills. i was getting $128 in food stamps.Now I am getting $21 this month and the rest of the year $33 monthly. Why do the homeless get $200 monthly and the people that are paying bills get a lot less. I am very confused. We help feed so many other countries but some of the people in our own country are going hungry. I sure could use some help. I would gladly sell some of my stuff if I had transportation. I have severe anxieties because I was raped several times as a child. Why did I even bother applying. I needed those food stamps but how do you stretch out $21?

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