This vote was on an amendment that would have blocked a proposed cut in funding for a program that helps low-income Americans afford food.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that authorizes federal programs that assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment sought to avert a cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.” The program received $78 billion in funding in 2011, but the underlying farm bill would cut its funding by about $450 million per year. Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment would have restored that funding and instead cut funding for crop insurance programs.
Sen. Gillibrand argued that cutting funding for SNAP would penalize those who could least afford it, especially low-income families with children. She argued that the program not only helps fight hunger, but also supports economic growth by putting cash in the hands of those most likely to spend it.
“As a mother, as a lawmaker, watching a child go hungry is something I will not stand for. In this day and age, in a country as rich as America, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated and should certainly not be advocated,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “Let's agree children deserve healthy meals so they can live healthy lives and learn and grow and reach their God-given potential. Let's agree it is a worthwhile investment in our future to make sure children do not go hungry in this country.”
Opponents of Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment argued that the cuts slated for SNAP were modest and would help cut back on waste and fraud. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) argued that the amendment would set back efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit by cutting spending in the farm bill.
“I deeply care about protecting nutrition assistance programs,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said. “But … in a handful of states, they have found a way to increase the SNAP benefits for people in their states by sending $1 checks in heating assistance to everyone who gets food assistance. Now, it is important to consider what a family's heating bill is when determining how much help they need, which is why the two programs are linked. But sending out $1 checks to everyone is not the intent of Congress… This is about accountability and integrity within the program.”
Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 33-66. Voting “yea” were 29 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 4 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 42 Republicans and 24 Democrats. As a result, the Senate moved forward with legislation that would cut food assistance for low-income Americans by $450 million annually.