Senate rejects food stamp reforms

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The Democratically controlled Senate defeated two farm bill amendments aimed at stemming the ballooning food stamp rolls on Tuesday.

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions set his sights on reforming Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, with four amendments to the farm bill earlier this month.

Leadership allowed two of the four to come up for a vote. One was to end bonuses to states that increase their food stamp participation, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would have saved $480 million over 10 years. The other amendment would have restored an asset test to ensure that those on food stamps meet the program’s eligibility requirement, a reform the CBO estimated would have save $11 billion over 10 years.

Both were defeated with votes of 41-58 and 43-56, respectively. Sen. Claire McCaskill was the only Democrat to vote ‘yes’ for any of the amendments, throwing her support behind the asset test requirement.

Birmingham News’ Washington Bureau reported that Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a farm bill co-sponsor with Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, argued the reforms would “dramatically affect” families and worried that the asset test would render many needy people ineligible.

In a statement released after the vote, Sessions expressed his disappointment in the measures failures and reiterated his concerns that food stamp spending has increased 100 percent in the last four years and quadrupled since 2001.

“My amendments would have made two modest but critical reforms to the food stamp program: Preventing states from waiving eligibility requirements, and eliminating bonus pay provided to states for deliberately swelling the rolls. It is stunning that the Democrat majority — at a time when we are borrowing forty cents of every dollar we spend — would object to providing even this small degree of financial accountability,” Sessions said. “It is, however, an encouraging sign of progress that this amendment, unlike last year, did receive bipartisan support and a larger vote total.”

Food stamp spending represents 80 percent of the current farm bill. Crop insurance, commodities and conservation comprise the remaining 20 percent.

“Welfare support can, over time, become damaging to both the Treasury and the recipient,” Sessions concluded. “Those administering the program seem determined to place the largest number of people possible on welfare support. Is not a better goal to see how many Americans we can help achieve financial independence?”

Sessions had initially believed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not bring his amendments to the floor due to their political sensitively.

The bill is expected to pass by the end of the week.

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