Republican cuts to food stamps would impact thousands of Virgin Islanders
Published: September 23, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Local officials expressed dismay about House Republicans' efforts to cut nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, during the course of the next 10 years.
The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, which proposes the cuts, was approved in the House late Thursday on a vote of 217-210 strictly along partisan lines. The bill would drop 3.8 million people from SNAP's enrollment by the end of 2014. It also would require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program to receive benefits.
Republican leaders said the bill is needed because the program has expanded to a cost of $80 billion a year, even as the economy is recovering from the recession and as jobless rates continue to decline. The program is projected to cost more than $700 billion during the next 10 years, even if the cuts are enacted.
The president has vowed to veto the bill, and Senate leaders have said the bill has no chance of passing.
According to the V.I. Human Services Department's Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the number of SNAP recipients has grown from 16,915 in 2007 to 32,327 in 2013.
A total of 14,489 households received the benefits in FY 2013, a 3 percent increase from FY 2012. Of the FY 2103 recipients, 15.3 percent were employed.
During FY 2013, Human Services distributed $57 million in SNAP benefits, $4 million more than the previous year, according to Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch.
Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen joined House Democrats in opposing the measure.
"SNAP has already been reduced to dangerous levels, and this is in addition to the drop in benefits that will occur when the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expire at the end of October," Christensen said in a press release. "I am glad that not one Democrat voted for it."
Specifically, Christensen protested provisions in the bill that would withdraw SNAP benefits from those who participate in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In statements on the House floor, she cited the high cost of energy in the territory and the many households in the Virgin Islands receiving SNAP benefits.
Another provision of the Republican bill that Christensen objected to was one removing the ability of states experiencing high unemployment to request waivers to time limitations for able-bodied adults without dependents.
"I can tell you as the representative of a territory whose unemployment has skyrocketed due to a plant closure, through no fault of the workers who are left behind and must now utilize food stamps even though they prefer to work, this would be catastrophic and leave many people without resources," Christensen said in a debate of the bill.
Finch called the bill "mean-spirited" and said it defies a "basic social contract" that ensures that the poor, particularly the working poor, would not be left without basic necessities.
He also said that SNAP recipients should not panic, as the likelihood of the bill's passage through the Senate is slim.
However, the present mood of Congressional lawmakers, particularly those in the House bent on fiscal reform and focused on the national deficit, may mean that this is the first of many battles to be pitched over social services programs that escaped slashing by conservatives during the recession.
Finch cited as concerns the effects of sequestration on other social service programs, such as HeadStart and Meals on Wheels, an earlier cut to SNAP funding that already passed Congress and the many attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act by Congressional Republicans.
"I don't think it's likely that we will see cuts this massive, but there seems there will likely be some reduction in SNAP benefits," Finch said. "Yes, there is very much this attack, and yet you don't see any serious national discussion in Congress about raising the minimum wage."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.