Tighten our belts? You have to be kidding.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is expected to introduce a bill that could come to a vote this week, which would cut SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits for 4 to 6 million struggling Americans. SNAP provides critical assistance to millions of people, mostly women and children, to stave off hunger. In 2011, SNAP lifted the incomes of almost 3.9 million people above the poverty line (including 1.1 million women and 1.7 million children). And in a nation where nearly 50 million Americans suffer from food insecurity annually – including 15.8 million children – SNAP benefits are tangible, direct, and life-saving. But they’re already modest, averaging less than $1.40 per person per meal.

And now they’re on the chopping block.

Republican House leadership introduced a bill earlier this year that proposed to cut SNAP by $20 billion over 10 years, but the bill was defeated at least in part because of pressure from the far right for more cuts. Enter Congressman Cantor with a revised plan to double the cuts by placing new restrictions on recipients and eliminating states’ options to address local challenges. Here are a few key points about the proposed changes:

  • Currently, states can opt to extend benefits to households with assets or gross incomes just above the regular SNAP guidelines. (For a family of three, the net income limit is just over $19,000 annually.) Many of these families now qualify for SNAP because of higher-than-average child care or housing costs. Under Rep. Cantor’s plan, their benefits would be discontinued.
  • SNAP already has what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) calls a “severe” rule that limits benefits to only three months every three years for unemployed adults who don’t have children. During the recession and its aftermath, most states have requested waivers of this rule for areas with persistently high unemployment – but the Cantor bill would eliminate this waiver authority, immediately terminating benefits for millions of people living in high unemployment areas.
  • Under Rep. Cantor’s proposal, SNAP benefits could also be eliminated for adults who don’t work or participate in a training program at least 20 hours each week, even if those adults have young children. Benefits for both the adults and their children could be cut, regardless of how scarce jobs and job training opportunities are in the recipients’ community. Millions of families with extremely low incomes could lose one of the only resources they have to feed their children – and the bill actually incentivizes states to drop these families from the SNAP rolls by allowing states to keep half the savings from ending SNAP benefits to spend any way they like.

Unsurprisingly, these changes would affect many of our country’s most vulnerable, cutting off the lifeline that SNAP provides to individuals and families in communities that have been left behind in the recovery; the stories about sacrifices that families make even with SNAP benefits are heartbreaking. Under Rep. Cantor’s plan, millions would be denied these crucial benefits, including low-income moms and kids, seniors, veterans, and jobless workers. With sequestration cutting deeply into other supports for low-income families and unemployment still unacceptably high – especially for single moms and women and men of color – it is simply unconscionable for Congress to consider dismantling a vital piece of the safety net.

Who’s not being asked to tighten their belts? Certainly not the top 1 percent or corporations.

I’m mad as hell about SNAP cuts, and you should be, too.

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