TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma congressman is proposing cutting $20 billion over 10 years from the nation's food stamps program in the latest farm bill, but he insists that reductions "won't take a calorie off the plate of anyone who needs help."
Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/11bxBLj ) in a story published Monday that he would achieve that savings by eliminating categorical eligibility — a state option that allows residents who qualify for other assistance programs to still get full Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Formal writing of Lucas' proposed farm bill begins May 15.
His proposal, which also includes an $18 billion reducing in spending on farm programs, has come under fire from liberal groups. Forty-three states, including Oklahoma, have some form of categorical eligibility.
Most categorically eligible SNAP recipients meet the financial requirements, but about 2 percent don't. Those people would lose their food stamp benefits under the proposal, Lucas said.
"We're not talking about kicking people off the program who qualify (financially) under current law," Lucas told the newspaper. "We're saying no more automatic eligibility if you qualify for some other federal welfare benefit. ... You just have to demonstrate your income. You have to demonstrate your assets."
Lucas said that the number of food stamp recipients has doubled in the last 10 years, tripling the cost to the government.
Large food producers, processors and distributors are among the opponents of reforming the food stamp program and other federal nutrition programs. The newspaper reported that one-sixth of Kraft's income comes from SNAP.
Lucas is also going after a related program not offered in Oklahoma that's sometimes known as Heat and Eat, which combines winter heating fuel assistance with SNAP.
In some cases, Lucas said, people get as little as $1 in heating aid a month but become eligible for full SNAP benefits. He wants to raise the minimum heating assistance require to receive food stamps to $20 a month.
"If states want to help their residents ... I'm not opposed to that concept," Lucas said. "But $1 to get a full month of food stamp benefits, that's just mining the federal treasury."
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com