Progressives and Democrats in Congress have sharply criticized House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) for including a plan to slash food assistance benefits in his latest list of demands on the debt ceiling, which is expected to be released on Monday.
As reported by Politico on Sunday, McCarthy is floating a proposal that would cut benefits offered in the Supplemental Nutrition Food Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. SNAP is the nation’s most expansive food assistance program, helping to feed 42 million people each year.
McCarthy is proposing expanding the age bracket in which people must satisfy certain work requirements in order to access benefits, according to Politico. Other provisions would take aim at unspecified supposed “loopholes” in the policy that conservatives have long complained about in arguing for less people to be fed if they are facing financial precarity.
On Monday, McCarthy spoke at the New York Stock Exchange about forcing through the proposal via must-pass debt ceiling legislation, urging investors on Wall Street to join him in his quest to “brin[g] spending under control.”
Democratic and progressive lawmakers have sharply criticized McCarthy’s push to cut SNAP. Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pennsylvania) called the proposal a “pro-starvation agenda” on Twitter.
“My family and I depended on food stamps. So do over 65,000 men, women, and children in the community I serve,” she said on Sunday. “We CANNOT allow Republicans’ threats to crash our economy if we don’t bend to their pro-starvation agenda. Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”
“No one should have to deal with food insecurity in America. This is not a game, y’all,” Lee added on Monday.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) pointed out the cruelty of proposing cutting food assistance while the GOP is pushing to outlaw abortion across the country. “Let me get this straight: Republicans are not only forcing people to give birth, but are comfortable letting those children starve? Disgraceful,” she wrote.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) and Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vermont) also expressed disgust at the proposal. “Any threat to SNAP is completely unacceptable,” Balint said.
Placing additional work requirements on SNAP access would almost certainly lead to more hunger and food insecurity in the U.S., worsening health outcomes for children in particular. Existing hurdles to access the benefits, like work requirements and extremely strict asset limits — as well as the burden of documenting these things to prove eligibility — have already been criticized by anti-hunger advocates for making it harder for people to access food.
Analysts have said that making requirements for the program even stricter would disproportionately affect people with disabilities and people in insecure jobs — at a time when the Federal Reserve is taking steps to depress job growth and as the U.S. is expected to soon undergo a recession.
The SNAP cuts may face an uphill battle. Politico notes in its report that Republicans in the Senate have expressed skepticism about the proposal — not because they oppose the plan, but because they don’t believe that it would survive negotiations over the debt limit. With a slim margin of votes for the GOP in his chamber, McCarthy may even have trouble pushing it through the House, lawmakers said.