House votes to cut $4B a year from food stamps

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has voted to cut nearly $4 billion a year from food stamps, a 5 percent reduction to the nation's

main feeding program used by more than 1 in 7 Americans.

The 217-210 vote was a win for conservatives after Democrats united in opposition and some GOP moderates said the cut was

too high. Fifteen Republicans voted against the measure.

The bill's savings would be achieved by

allowing states to put broad new work requirements in place for many

food stamp recipients

and to test applicants for drugs. The bill also would end

government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without

dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

House conservatives, led by Majority Leader

Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said the almost $80 billion-a-year program has

become

bloated. More than 47 million Americans are now on food stamps,

and the program's cost more than doubled in the last five

years as the economy struggled through the Great Recession.

Democrats said the rise in the rolls during tough economic times

showed the program was doing its job.

Finding a compromise — and the votes — to

scale back the feeding program has been difficult. The conservatives

have insisted

on larger cuts, Democrats opposed any cuts and some moderate

Republicans from areas with high food stamp usage have been wary

of efforts to slim the program. The White House has threatened to

veto the bill.

House leaders were still shoring up votes on the bill just hours before the vote. To make their case, the Republican leaders

emphasized that the bill targets able-bodied adults who don't have dependents. And they say the broader work requirements

in the bill are similar to the 1996 welfare law that led to a decline in people receiving that government assistance.

"This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most," Cantor said on the floor just before the bill passed.

"And most people don't choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job ... They want what we want."

The new work requirements proposed in the bill would allow states to require 20 hours of work activities per week from any

able-bodied adult with a child over age 1 if that person has child care available. The requirements would be applicable to

all parents whose children are over age 6 and attending school.

The legislation is the House's effort to finish work on a wide-ranging farm bill, which has historically included both farm

programs and food stamps. The House Agriculture Committee approved a combined bill earlier this year, but it was defeated

on the floor in June after conservatives revolted, saying the cuts to food stamps weren't high enough. That bill included

around $2 billion in cuts annually.

After the farm bill defeat, Republican leaders split the legislation in two and passed a bill in July that included only farm

programs. They promised the food stamp bill would come later, with deeper cuts.

In order to negotiate the bill with the

Senate, Republicans said Thursday that one more step is needed — the

House will have

to hold a procedural vote to allow both the farm and food stamp

bills to go to a House-Senate conference together. It is unclear

whether Republicans who pushed to split the two bills will oppose

that effort.

Once the bills get to that conference,

negotiations with the Senate will not be an easy task. A Senate farm

bill passed in

June would only make a tenth of the cuts to food stamps, or $400

million, and the White House has issued a veto threat against

the House bill. The two chambers will also have to agree on policy

for farm subsidies amid disputes between different crops.

Every Democrat voting on Thursday opposed the bill. Many took to the floor with emotional appeals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill is a "full assault on the health and economic security of millions

of families." Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett called it the "let them starve" bill.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that House Republicans are attempting to "literally take food out of the mouths

of hungry Americans in order to, again, achieve some ideological goal."

The Congressional Budget Office says that if the bill were enacted, as many as 3.8 million people could lose their benefits

in 2014.

Around 1.7 million of those would be the

able-bodied adults who would be subject to work requirements after three

months of

receiving food stamps. The 1996 welfare law put that limit into

law, but most every state has been allowed to waive that requirement

since the Great Recession began in 2008.

The other 2.1 million would lose benefits

because the bill would largely eliminate so-called categorical

eligibility, a method

used by many states that allows people to automatically qualify

for food stamps if they already receive other benefits. Some

of those people who qualify that way do not meet current SNAP

income and asset tests.

The Census Bureau reported this week that just over half of those who received food stamps were below poverty and 44 percent

had one or more people with a disability.

By state, Oregon led the nation in food

stamp use at 20.1 percent, or 1 in 5, due in part to generous state

provisions that

expand food stamp eligibility to families. Oregon was followed by

more rural or more economically hard-hit states, including

Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan and Tennessee. Wyoming had

the fewest households on food stamps, at 7 percent.

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Hope Yen contributed to this report.

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