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Editorial: Food stamp cuts would be heartless

A social worker displays a Federal food stamps

A social worker displays a Federal food stamps card that is used to purchase food. Photo Credit: Getty, 2011

If Congress wants to wring maximum suffering from minimal savings, then cutting funding for food stamps in this sluggish economy is just the ticket.

That's what Congress is poised to do if farm legislation under consideration that includes funding for the $80-billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program becomes law. It's the wrong place for cost cutting.

Since the economic crisis began, the number of people on Long Island relying on food stamps for their daily bread has more than doubled, to 178,000. In 2008 there were 29,459 recipients in Nassau and 44,326 in Suffolk. Those numbers have soared to 66,682 in Nassau and 111,065 in Suffolk this year. Nationally, 46 million people receive food stamps. Four in 10 live in households with earnings. About seven in 10 are children.

Despite the obvious need, a $500-billion farm bill passed by the Senate in June would cut funding for the program by $4.6 billion over five years. A bill the House Agriculture Committee approved in July, which the full House has yet to vote on, would cut $16 billion over a decade, and some Republicans are pushing for more.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, so the clock is ticking for Congress to ensure that money for the federal government's first line of defense against hunger doesn't disappear. The spending for food aid benefits farmers by increasing demand for the crops they sell.

The federal budget deficit is $1.1 trillion. Washington can't continue spending that much more than it collects in taxes. But savings from such cuts to the food stamp program would be fairly inconsequential, while their impact would be very consequential for recipients struggling to feed their families. Even the more modest $4.6 billion cut the Senate approved would mean a reduction of $90 a month for some food stamp recipients in New York State, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress should not take food from the mouths of the hungry. The world's richest nation shouldn't be that heartless.