When Andres Gonzalez’s mother lost her job two years ago, the former student at South Texas College applied for food stamps, a federal aid program for the poor.
"It gave me more time to focus on looking for work and going to school, instead of having to worry about where I’m going to get my next meal," said Gonzalez, 24, who left the nutrition assistance program earlier this year after he found work as a warehouse supervisor in McAllen, Texas.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives view the aid more skeptically, arguing it’s rife with waste and abuse. Legislation passed the chamber yesterday that would cut $39 billion from nutrition programs over a decade, a roughly 5 percent reduction that would end food-stamp benefits for 3.8 million Americans next year.
The vote came a day after the release of new U.S. Census Bureau data showing 46.5 million people living in poverty, close to 15 percent of the population and near a two-decade high.
During the debate, Republicans cited the example of a surfer in California who said he used food stamps to buy lobster. They also said the aid programs, which have expanded rapidly since the economic downturn, are too often viewed as a permanent government subsidy rather than short-term relief.
"The reforms made by this bill will put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, before the vote. ‘
The vote was close -- 217 Republicans supported it, while all 195 Democrats and 15 Republicans, mostly from the Northeast, opposed it.
Opponents, who had brought in soup-kitchen leaders and a celebrity, Tom Colicchio from television’s "Top Chef," to attack the bill, said the measure was "heartless."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the legislation amounted to "snatching food out of the hands" of the poor. The Nevada Democrat said the House would do better to vote on a Senate-passed bill, which he said saves $23 billion over a decade, including $4 billion from the food-stamp program, "without forcing needy children to skip meals."