Durbin: 'No Food Stamps, No Farm Bill'
CHICAGO - It's that time of year, the August congressional recess when lawmakers meet with constituents, and Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is mincing no words over proposed food stamp cuts. House Republicans had separated the food stamp program, SNAP, from the Farm Bill and now they are talking about $40 billion in cuts over ten years. That's twice the amount they had proposed during the Farm Bill debate that failed. During a stop in Chicago, Senator Durbin predicted that a Farm Bill without a food stamp provision would be dead on arrival in the Senate.
He said deep cuts will be painful for millions people who get food assistance.
"A lot of them are seniors on Social Security who are below the poverty level, and many of them, many of them are families that are working but not making enough money."
House Republican leaders also have added what they call common-sense work requirements to the new proposal. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the proposed work requirements would throw people off the program after 90 days if they work less than 20 hours a week.
Chicagoan Lori Mages graduated from college, got a job, bought a house and then got sick. Now she receives disability and can only work ten hours a week. Under the new Republican proposal she would lose her benefits because she doesn't work enough hours. She said she already faces the possibility of losing her home, and these proposed cuts feel like punishment.
"Punishing me for getting sick: something that I could not have avoided" Mages called it. "There's nothing I could do. There's no cure for my illness. Now they want to take food away?"
Mages gets along by supplementing store-bought food with assistance from food pantries and eating at free meal centers in Chicago four days a week.
David Lloyd, senior policy adviser with Voices for Illinois Children, has looked at the USDA statistics, and said that in any given month 65 percent of families on food stamps have at least one person in the household that is working.
"It's not that people don't want to work," he said. "It's that they often are underemployed or can't find jobs."
Lloyd said one in three Illinois children lives in a family that receives food stamps, and if the Republican cuts go through, when the family loses their food stamps the children also lose their free lunches at school.
47 million people in Illinois and across the nation receive food stamps; 22 million of them are children.