Feeding hunger, not greed

October 10, 2005

A Senate proposal to cut funding for the federal food stamp program at a time when poverty rates are climbing is bad public policy and sure to hurt big cities where the majority of poor people live and hunger and food insecurity is more common.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, proposed the cut in an effort to trim $3 billion from the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His representative says the $574 million cut would be covered by savings under rule changes that now require recipients to regularly prove eligibility or leave the program.

This would be logical if millions of ineligible people were getting the benefits, but they are not. The tightened rules have pared from the program just 300,000 low-income people who had slightly higher incomes than allowed. And as a result, food banks, private charities and local governments report increased requests for emergency food assistance.

Congressional lawmakers should instead cut farm subsidies, which have expanded over the past decade while food stamp funding was being cut. Mostly large and wealthy farms benefit from the $10 billion in annual subsidies, and even President Bush has said they should be eliminated. Mr. Chambliss' proposal cuts just $1.1. billion in farm subsidies over five years and extends funding beyond their 2007 expiration.

The food stamp program has kept children and the elderly from going hungry, and has not made them rich. Last year, 24 million people received monthly food stamp benefits at a cost of about $24.6 billion. Baltimore is among 10 cities with the highest food stamp usage growth rates, and nearly 104,000 local residents received food stamp benefits last year, the majority of them children. Further cuts and restrictions to the program will not help children truly in need.

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