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House Showdown on SNAP Cuts to Affect Thousands in Oregon

September 18, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - A bill trimming almost $40 billion from the SNAP program over 10 years is expected to be up for a vote in the U.S. House this week. It's called the "Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013" - but hunger-fighting groups say it means reducing benefits and making it harder to qualify for food assistance for more than 100,000 Oregonians.

Jeff Kleen, public policy advocate for the Oregon Food Bank, said this showdown has been coming for some time and, although House Democrats have vowed to vote against it, the bill - HR 3102 - may pass.

"We're concerned that House leadership wouldn't bring it to the floor if they didn't feel like they had the votes," he said. "Unfortunately, this is a continued pattern that we have seen in the House. This is not the time to be cutting this program - it's such a step backwards."

Previous House legislation proposed a $20 billion trim to SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps, and Kleen said even that would have meant cutting the food equivalent of what the Oregon Food Bank distributes for more than five years.

The current House bill is in the Rules Committee, where it's also getting some criticism for being split off from the larger Farm Bill, specifically as a way to target food-assistance programs.

Amendments added to the House legislation all are designed to make it tougher for people to get assistance. They include mandatory drug testing, banning convicted felons from ever receiving food stamps, and allowing states to set work requirements for some recipients. Kleen said these may make for political showmanship but don't address the core problems of unemployment and low-wage work.

"We are deeply concerned by the continued demonization of people who are experiencing poverty," he said. "I think it really does reflect a certain lack of empathy, and consideration for larger economic forces."

He pointed to Oregon's 17 percent underemployment rate and fewer jobs that pay living wages and benefits as some of the economic forces that prompt people's use of food stamps to get by. States such as Oregon were able to keep hunger figures from rising significantly during the recession only because of the federal food programs, he said.

The text of HR 3102 is online at govtrack.us.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR