By Brian Tumulty
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - New York's six Republican House members were split Thursday on a proposal to cut spending on food assistance.
The House was expected to narrowly approve the proposal later Thursday despite strong opposition from Democrats.
WEB EXTRA: Food stamp recipients by county as of June 2013 (http://bit.ly/1gEFOJo)
The bill would cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program, by $39 billion over 10 years. It would eliminate SNAP eligibility for about 4 million people in the first year and would reduce benefit monthly benefits by an average $90 a month for another 850,000 people.
Certain automatic eligibility rules would be eliminated, work requirements for able-bodied adults would be more strictly enforced and federal funding for job training would be trimmed. SNAP recipients, however, could fulfill the work requirements through unpaid volunteer work.
The proposed changes are on top of a reduction in benefits of $35 a month for a family of four that will take effect Nov. 1. That's when enhanced benefits included in the 2009 economic stimulus package will expire.
Republican Reps. Chris Gibson of Kinderhook and Michael Grimm of Staten Island said they will oppose the SNAP cuts.
"(Gibson) believes it is possible to reform the program in a way that prioritizes support for Americans who are in need and who qualify,'' spokeswoman Stephanie Valle said. "There are certainly some areas of reform that have bipartisan consensus and help improve the administration and integrity of the program, and Congressman Gibson supports these."
Grimm's spokeswoman, Carol Danko, said, "The cuts are just too deep, especially for his Sandy-ravaged district in which many hard-working people who never expected to take a government hand-out found themselves in need of assistance while they rebuilt their homes and small businesses destroyed in the storm.''
Grimm does support the stiffer work requirements, according to his spokeswoman, who noted that New York City already has them in place.
Republican Reps. Tom Reed of Corning and Chris Collins from the Buffalo suburb of Clarence planned to support the bill. They said they favor the legislation's increased emphasis on putting able-bodied SNAP recipients to work.
The SNAP law in effect now has a work requirement, but it has been largely waived in most states as they recover slowly from the recession.
The two other Republicans in the delegation - Reps. Richard Hanna of Oneida County and Peter King of Seaford on Long Island - were unavailable for comment Thursday prior to the vote.
Reed described the changes in the bill as "positive reforms.'' The bill would take away from high-unemployment states and counties the option of waiving the requirement that able-bodied adults without children get a job, although it would allow volunteer work to qualify.
"To me that's what we went to Washington to do, is to downsize this government, but also do it in a way that recognizes that there are going to be people that need that helping hand,'' Reed said. "And we're not going to talk about removing that helping hand. But what we are going to do is empower individuals through these programs so they get back to work and control their own destinies.''
But the bill also would cut federal funding for job training for SNAP recipients.
Reed told reporters that issue could be resolved during House-Senate negotiations on a final version of the legislation.
The Senate passed a farm bill in June that would cut SNAP spending by $4 billion over 10 years, one-tenth the size of the cuts the House has proposed.