* Close vote expected in House on Thursday
* Second veto threat by White House on food stamps
* Enrollment is near record at 47.76 million people
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, Sept 18 The White House on Wednesday
threatened to veto a Republican-written bill nearing a vote in
the U.S. House of Representatives that would cut food stamps for
the poor by $40 billion over a decade and end benefits for an
estimated 4 million people.
Representatives are likely to vote on the bill on Thursday.
A close vote is expected. The White House threat capped a day of
high-decibel opposition by congressional Democrats and
antihunger groups who called the cuts harsh and heartless.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the food stamps
program in its current form is a unaffordable burden on
middle-class families and can be pruned while still helping
"those who truly need it." Enrollment in the food stamps program
has doubled and its cost has tripled since 2004.
In a statement, the White House said lawmakers should
instead cut farm and crop insurance subsidies rather than
separate millions of people from "one of our nation's strongest
defenses against hunger and poverty."
"These cuts would affect a broad array of Americans who are
struggling to make ends meet, including working families with
children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still
looking for work," the White House said.
It was the second time since June that the White House has
threatened to veto large cuts in food stamps, the main federal
program against hunger.
With Republicans holding a 33-seat advantage in the House,
Democrats need to persuade around 20 Republicans to join them to
kill the bill. Conversely, Republicans need a party-line vote to
prevail. They did that on July 11 roll call to single out food
stamps for cuts.
The Republican bill would limit able-bodied adults to three
months of benefits in a three-year period unless they worked
part-time or were in the workfare or job-training programs.
Waivers are allowed now during times of high unemployment. The
bill would also end a provision allowing benefits to people with
assets slightly larger than usually permitted.
Food stamps have been the overriding issue for more than a
year on passage of a five-year, $500 billion farm bill. The
Senate has voted for $4 billion in cuts. Tea Party-influenced
Republicans in the House rebelled at a proposed $20 billion in
cuts, leading to Cantor's package of $40 billion in reforms.
A near-record 47.76 million people, about 85 percent of them
children, elderly or disabled, received food stamps at latest
count in June. Benefits average $1.47 per meal per person with
an aggregate price tag of $78 billion last year.
Enrollment surged by 20 million people during the 2007-08
economic downturn and has remained high, the result of slow wage
growth and high long-term joblessness, say antihunger groups.