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House vote to slash food stamps is a heartless attack on the poor

It’s hard to see how House Republicans could seem more hard-hearted than by last week’s vote to slash the food stamp program that benefits the poorest Americans, including many seniors, children and the disabled.

We’d hate to see them try to top their proposed $40 billion gash over the next decade to such a crucial program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Consider, 187,399 residents in Erie and Niagara counties receive food stamps, and more than 6,600 of them could lose their federal food aid under the Republican effort. Fortunately, the Senate is unlikely to follow suit.

This nation is still recovering from a disastrous recession. New census figures show that in 2012, 46.5 million people, 15 percent of the population, were living in poverty. The weak economic recovery has not reached these people, and it would be beyond heartless to take away the benefit that is helping them keep food on the table.

The program has grown immensely during the past few years, from costing roughly $38 billion in 2008 to almost $78 billion last year, but that’s due in large part to the economy’s downward slide. When the economic recovery reaches the least-affluent Americans, the number of food stamp recipients will decline.

Certainly, with such a large program there are bound to be people gaming the system. They should be rooted out, expelled. But massive cuts to the program will hurt millions of people with a legitimate need.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., says the billions of dollars in cuts “will put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.” He doesn’t say how that will happen in a nation with tens of millions of people unemployed or underemployed.

The food stamp program was taken out of the farm bill this year, to make it easier to kill. So the effort to knock millions of people off food stamps is now also stalling the farm bill and its lifeline to the nation’s farmers.

The farm bill faced a similar impasse last year before lawmakers simply extended the old bill, including its food stamp provisions, for another year.

As News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski’s recent article pointed out, as quickly as the yogurt industry is growing in upstate New York, it would grow faster if Congress passes a five-year farm bill. The one-year extensions do not allow businesses to plan far enough into the future.

The Congressional Budget Office says that if the food stamp cuts are enacted, as many as 3.8 million people could lose their benefits in 2014.

“It’s a huge disservice to hungry families all across America and a disservice to our farmers,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said of the House proposal. “I hope Democrats stand strong against such outrageous cuts.”

So do we.