WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans are laying the groundwork for an overhaul of the nation's food stamp program, trying again after an unsuccessful attempt two years ago.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Tuesday that his panel is starting a comprehensive, multiyear review of the program to see what's working. He said "either huge reforms or small reforms" could come from that, though he wouldn't detail what those might be.
Conaway says a 2013 GOP effort to cut food stamps "didn't resonate well" because Republicans didn't spell out why it was important. House Republican leaders tried unsuccessfully to cut the program by 5 percent annually by passing a bill with broad new work requirements.
"In order for this thing to work we have to have the American people supporting it, understand what's working and not working," Conaway said.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has said he will do a similar review.
The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, serves more than 46 million Americans and costs $74 billion last year. That's twice the program's 2008 cost.
In 2013, GOP leaders held up a massive farm bill for more than a year, insisting that money for farm programs be paired with cuts to SNAP.
Democrats balked, and the final bill included a much smaller cut, scaling back policy that entitled some low-income families to more SNAP aid if they received federal heating assistance. Congress estimated then that the cut would trim SNAP by about 1 percent annually, but the amount is likely much lower because several states found ways to avoid the cuts.
The House Agriculture Committee will start its review this week with two hearings.
Some Democrats say they are wary of the review process. Agriculture Committee member James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a longtime advocate for food stamps, said he wonders why the SNAP program is singled out for review and not expensive farm programs.
"I am deeply concerned about this," McGovern said. "This is a program that by and large works."
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