WASHINGTON – A House budget cutting plan is jeopardizing food stamps and other services for thousands of poor Marylanders, state human resources officials said.
Nearly 2,500 people — including 770 immigrants — would get dropped from nutritional assistance if Congress passes a budget-cutting bill heard Thursday on Capitol Hill.
“There are items in this package that some will not like,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle. “But those (hurricane) disasters forced us to recognize that we were faced with a new priority — something that was more important than other things we might want to do.”
If approved, the bill would cost Maryland’s economy $9.35 million over the next five years, according to Richard Larson, policy and research director for the state’s Department of Human Resources.
Maryland constitutes 1.1 percent of the national program. The state expanded eligibility requirements through changes in the food stamp law approved in 2002.
But the House bill would tighten requirements to exclude some recipients — including immigrants — who qualify for food stamps simply because they qualify for other programs funded by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Nationally, households receiving any type of TANF benefit are eligible for food stamps. In Maryland, receiving any one type of benefit also entitles the household to food stamps, including people who receive help with child care, medical bills and shelter expenses, such as heating.
Being elderly, disabled, homeless, unemployed, living on a small income or working for low wages or part-time also makes those groups eligible for nutrition assistance.
“What changes is who we let in the door,” Larson said. “If this change goes through, more mistakes are going to be made. As soon as you complicate a program, it raises the possibility of people making mistakes. The more variables you throw in, the more likely you are to get one of them wrong.”
Nationally, the bill would slash $953 million through 2010 from the food stamp program, knocking off 225,000 people — including 70,000 legal permanent residents — from nutritional assistance, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
About 40,000 school-age children in these households would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals, the CBO reported. Benefits for these students would decline by about $185 a year.
The measure also makes additional reductions in child welfare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and child support enforcement.
“This is not the time to cut food stamps,” said Deborah Stein, director of federal policy and advocacy at Voices for America’s Children. “Despite recent increases in poverty, despite the sluggish economy, despite the hundreds of thousands of families who depend on (these) programs . . . to help them rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina — they are moving ahead with these cuts.”
But many of these programs are in need of reform, said Budget Committee Chairman Nussle.
“They are inefficient, inadequate and wasteful,” he said. “And too often they are failing the very people they are intended to help. Budget reconciliation is one of the few tools Congress has to drive reform of these programs.”