Four local Republicans defy party on food stamp cuts

WASHINGTON -- Four Philadelphia-area Republicans broke party ranks Thursday night to oppose a conservative-led plan to make deep cuts in the aid program commonly known as “food stamps.”

U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan, of Delaware County, Mike Fitzpatrick, of Bucks, Frank LoBiondo, from the Atlantic City area, and Chris Smith, of South Jersey, were four of just 15 Republicans to oppose the bill to cut $40 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Many families throughout the 7th District rely on SNAP as an important safety net,” Meehan said in a statement. “There is no doubt that reforms are necessary to ensure SNAP dollars are used wisely and appropriately, though I’m concerned that this legislation would have hurt the very people who need assistance the most.”

LoBiondo, as well, represents a district where cities such as Atlantic City and Vineland have concentrations of poverty.

The cuts are intended to trim a program that many Republicans says has grown too fast and is now too broad. Supporters said that the plan is aimed at curbing waste and abuse and would not affect children or the elderly. It would require childless, healthy adults to either find work or enter job-seeking programs to receive benefits, along with other restrictions, including cutting back the length of time individuals can receive aid.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that nearly 4 million people would lose benefits next year.

The goal is to “ensure that while you have a safety net you shouldn’t be giving welfare benefits to people who are able-bodied and capable of getting a job who just choose to continue to get food stamps when they can actually go and work,” U.S. Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) recently told Bloomberg News.

Democrats blasted the proposal as a cold-hearted move that would hurt the needy.

“As a Member of Congress, and as an American, I believe we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable members of our communities have secure access to food,” said Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.)

No Democrats voted for the GOP plan. Local Republicans who supported it were: Charlie Dent, of Allentown, Jim Gerlach, from Chester County, and Jon Runyan, from South Jersey.

The measure is unlikely to become law.

“The Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said in a statement Thursday night.

The Senate will instead work on its own bill combining SNAP and farm subsidies – which have long been linked – and reconcile its version with the House.

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