House Republicans unveiled a new plan to radically change the food stamp program Thursday by cutting $40 billion from a program many say is crucial to the survival of out of work Americans.
Lawmakers who came up with the plan are also considering new work requirements and may allow states to drug test applicants before they can enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The initiative is just one idea being batted around in the House's nutrition working group, but the dramatic cut to the food assistance program attracted a lot of attention from Democrats, who argued the cuts go too far.
"The Republican Leadership plans to bring up yet another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party," the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a statement Thursday. "Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee's bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year."
The cuts are nearly double what Republicans initially suggested in their first farm bill in June. But doubling the number may be the only way to attract the entire Republican conference to back a nutrition program. News of the potential cuts spread after Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., discussed it Thursday morning and House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., mentioned that steep cuts may be a part of the final deal the House puts forward.
Lucas admitted it would be tough to find consensus with the Senate's version of the bill, which only shaved $4 billion from food stamps.
Food stamps, which has grown in the six years since the recession took hold, now serves 47 million Americans. And conservative members of the GOP have alleged that's more a result of abuse of the syste and expanding eligibility of food stamps to people who don't truly need them.
Corrected 08/02/13- An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.