Last updated: September 21. 2013 2:25PM - 1237 Views
BILL O’BOYLE boboyle@timesleader.com

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While Democrats U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright denounced the vote by the House of Representatives to cut an additional $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta defended the action, saying it will help eliminate fraud.

Casey, D-Scranton, said the House’s extreme plan builds upon “already unprecedented cuts” to the SNAP program even though economic data show every dollar in SNAP spending generates $1.70 in economic activity. Casey vowed to fight against the House’s new plan and detailed the impact that this new round of cuts will have on vulnerable Pennsylvania children, families and seniors.

“The House of Representatives’ plan to institute further draconian cuts to the SNAP program is bad for the economy, Pennsylvania’s children, families and seniors,” Casey said.

Barletta, R-Hazleton, said no one in America should go hungry, and everyone who needs assistance should have access to it. However, he said, the program should prevent people from defrauding the system, taking benefits and hurting those who actually need them.

“Under this plan, no one who is eligible for food stamps will be denied coverage,” Barletta said. “It prevents lottery winners, traditional college students, the deceased, illegal immigrants and those convicted of drug offenses from accessing benefits.”

Barletta said the GOP plan allows states to drug-test recipients if they choose to do so and it stops the use of taxpayer money to advertise in an effort to encourage people to enroll in the food stamp program. These steps will reduce costs and preserve the benefits for eligible recipients, he said.

Casey said fraud numbers in the SNAP program have never been lower. “It’s not zero,” Casey said. “But it’s a lot lower than other federal programs.”

Cartwright, D-Moosic, said the cuts would deny basic food for nearly 4 million Americans next year. The measure passed the House by a vote of 217 to 210.

Some 28,000 people in Cartwright’s district struggle to put food on the table for their families, he said. More than 90 percent of people on SNAP are children, the elderly, disabled or already working, he said.

“These devastating cuts will harm children, seniors, veterans and Americans looking for work,” Cartwright said. “SNAP is a vital tool to fight hunger and help unemployed Americans feed their families as they seek new employment, send their children to school and get themselves back on their feet.”

Casey said projections call for an estimated 14 million people to leave the program over the next 10 years as the economy improves. The average benefit per individual is about $4.28 per day, he said, while the national average is $4.40 per day. For the 2012 fiscal year, the average monthly benefit was $128.42, he said.

The House bill now goes to the Senate, where Casey said he will do whatever he can to stop it. “They will never succeed in cutting $40 billion,” he said. “But I’m sure there will be some compromise and there will be cuts. But not $40 billion.”

Cartwright said the House bill will cut school lunches for more than 200,000 children and eliminate food assistance for 170,000 veterans.

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