WASHINGTON (FNS) -- A Republican congressional plan would severely cut into the $25 billion in federal food stamp funds allocated each year, threatening the viability of many inner-city supermarkets, an anti-hunger group is arguing in its campaign to keep the program intact.
The food stamp program is a target for reform in the Republican lawmakers' Contract With America, which calls for dispersing lump-sum payments to the states to cover all nutrition programs.
According to the Food Research & Action Center, an arm of the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, the cuts would shrink food stamp funding by $5 billion in fiscal year 1996. By fiscal year 2000, $30 billion would be stripped.
Inner-city supermarkets, in turn, would be affected because fewer food stamp dollars would be spent there, FRAC argues. In addition, because each state would have its own food stamp program, administrative costs for retailers would rise.
Moreover, the organization notes, the much-touted uniform federal Electronic Benefits Transfer program -- in which food stamp users are issued computerized cards to reduce paperwork -- could be rendered useless because of the states' individual programs.
FRAC is working with a broad base of industry groups and lobbying lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to get its message across. The group is making a point of pressing its case with governors.
The cuts in food stamps would come from proposed changes in the way the budget is determined. Currently the government allocates its food stamp funds according to need. Under the Republican contract's Personal Responsibility Act, food stamps would no longer be an entitlement program. The states, faced with a set amount of money to divide among all nutrition programs, including the nonentitlement school lunches and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, would be forced to establish set budgets for food stamps.
"All of these food assistance programs would be lumped together and competing against one another. If a state only has so much money and you are in need in November for food stamps and the state has run out of money in October, there will be no money for you," said Marcia Stein, FRAC communications director.
Furthermore, Stein said food stamps, along with the other competing nutrition programs, would be subject to the annual congressional budget process, which could deepen cuts in funding.
Stein said the Republican plan is being unleashed without a strategy to deal with changes in food stamp needs. FRAC fears that states will deal with the shortage of food stamp funding by raising their eligibility standards, leaving needy people without assistance.