How Can a ‘Pro-Life’ Legislator Fight to Gut SNAP?

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Commentary Abortion

How Can a ‘Pro-Life’ Legislator Fight to Gut SNAP?

Sheila Bapat

The House sponsor of the recently failed Farm Bill has a deep commitment to fetuses. His commitment to children? Not so much.

As the drama over Texas’ 20-week abortion ban continues to unfold, we hear pro-life rhetoric like “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn.” Texas’s special session to consider this legislation is taking place after the U.S. Congress voted against a version of the Farm Bill that would significantly reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—a program on which millions of children living in poverty rely. This version of the farm bill was sponsored by a “pro-life” Congressman.

This is not the first time a self-declared “pro-life” legislator or body has supported cutting social services—far from it. North Carolina’s state legislature recently tacked abortion restrictions on its bizarre “protection-from-Sharia-law” bill; this comes days after North Carolina also cuts its long-term unemployment benefits, a program critical to many people of color and elder Americans. But there is something particularly insidious about a legislator’s plan to cut a program that keeps so many children from going hungry. The recent attack on SNAP reveals the fallacy of right-wing claims to value life—as well as a detached view of the role public benefits can play in keeping families and the economy functioning.

SNAP has for several decades been part of the farm bill. The farm bill covers crop subsidies and food aid to trade and conservation, but the biggest component is food stamps, which make up about 80 percent of spending in the law.

The proposal to gut SNAP, which is used by 47 million Americans, actually helped defeat the farm bill last month with a 195 to 234 vote in the House; the bill was criticized for being too severe. The House version of the farm bill would have cut $20 billion from the nutrition portion of the bill—which is primarily SNAP. Some Republicans believed this cut to the program were not steep enough, while Democrats said they were too steep. The Senate voted on a version of the Farm Bill to reduce the program by $400 million per year. Ultimately no legislation was passed and Congress will take the farm bill up again later this session. The defeat in the House signals the popularity of SNAP—while abortion bans keep bouncing back, the likelihood of a similar cut to SNAP resurfacing seems slim.

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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Yet the puzzle remains: key proponents of this plan to cut SNAP identify themselves as “pro-life.” Rep. Frank Lucas, (R-OK), sponsored this legislation that was defeated in late June. Lucas has also received a “0 percent” rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, having voted to allow hospital emergency rooms to refuse to provide abortion care to women and blocks to Planned Parenthood funding. Lucas has also received a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.

The roll call vote shows that a minority of Democrats also voted in favor of Lucas’s version of the farm bill, but the vote was overall deeply partisan in the House. A sampling of legislators who voted in favor of Lucas’s version of the farm bill reveals views on abortion similar to Lucas. Rep. Tim Griffin, (R-AR) voted for the farm bill and also boasts a 0 rating from NARAL, as well as an endorsement from Arkansas Right to Life. The same is true of Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) who voted for Lucas’s bill.

These legislators’ commitment to fetuses is very clear. Their commitment to children? Not so much. Mom’s Rising pointed out that 72 percent of families who rely on SNAP have children. Also according to Mom’s Rising, “SNAP lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line in 2011, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. Extensive research shows that SNAP improves dietary intake and health, especially among children, and with lasting effects.”

And, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently noted that “children born to poor women who had access to food stamps grew up with better health outcomes and girls grew up to be more self-sufficient than those born in counties that had not yet implemented the program.”

Lucas said to Politico in May, “The bottom line is: I sincerely believe this $20 billion won’t take a calorie off the plate of anyone who’s qualified.” But his version of the farm bill would have also caused a loss of free school lunch for over 210,000 children.

And people who qualify for SNAP are very poor. To qualify, a household must meet several criteria. For example, its gross monthly income generally must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, or $2,069 (about $24,800 a year) for a three-person family in fiscal year 2013. Exceptions include households with an elderly or disabled member in which monthly net income, or income after deductions are applied for items such as high housing costs and child care, must be less than or equal to the poverty line (about $19,100 a year or $1,591 a month for a three-person family in fiscal year 2013). Another is that the household’s assets must fall below certain limits. Households without an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $2,000 or less, and those with an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $3,250 or less.

Major public benefits like SNAP don’t just help poor kids during economic downturn. They also play a role in keeping our economy afloat. A study released Monday reveals that SNAP recipients helped raise the bottom line of grocery stores during the economic crisis.

The attack against SNAP failed, but it is perhaps the latest example of why a legislator’s claim to be “pro-life” simply cannot hold water when he also views critical programs that aid children as expendable.