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Obama administration pushes for better food stamp program funding

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- If a Republican bill cutting food stamp funding becomes law, nearly 4 million Americans would lose access to the program, the White House said Tuesday.

The White House released a report that said, among other things, about 95 percent of federal spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program goes directly to subsidizing food purchases of eligible households.

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"Ninety-one percent of those who receive SNAP benefits have incomes below the poverty line," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said during his daily media briefing while President Barack Obama wrapped up a West Coast trip.

Earnest said 5 million people were kept out of poverty in 2012 because of food stamps, including 2.2 million children and that 1 million veterans receive SNAP benefits.

Every new SNAP dollar generates as much as $1.80 in economic activity for the more than 230,000 retail food outlets participating in the program, the report said.

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"So even if Republicans are not interested in trying to provide assistance to those Americans who so clearly need it, there's a very good economic rationale for not cutting food stamps," Earnest said.

After passing its version of a farm bill that did not include any mention of the food stamp program during the summer, the House voted in September on what was called "Farm Bill 2" to cut $39 billion in a decade from the $80 billion program, which has long helped keep the nation's poorest from starving.

The boost to food stamps that was part of the 2009 economic stimulus program expired at the end of October, resulting in a 5 percent cut for about 47 million people -- from a maximum $200 a month to $189 for an individual, and from $668 to $632 for a family of four.

The Senate-passed farm bill proposes cutting $4 billion from SNAP over a 10-year period. A conference committee of members from both houses is working to reconcile the two bills.

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said during a teleconference the House bill would cut 2.1 million people from the SNAP program next year and 210,000 children would be ineligible to get free school meals because their eligibility is dependent on SNAP participation.

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"Another 1.7 million unemployed adults who live in areas of high unemployment would also lose their ability to get food stamps," Sperling said. "Some people who might simply have a car that they need to search for a job and get work could find that just having that asset denied them the ability to put food on the table for their children."

He said the House proposal would be "harsh and unacceptable at any time, but particularly so as we enter the Thanksgiving and the holiday season."

"We think it's very, very important that we not only pass the farm bill -- that's good for the agriculture community, good for rural development, good for our economy -- but is also consistent with our basic values and basic belief in supporting the dignity of all our neighbors and families," he said.

Asked how she saw the House-Senate conference committee on the farm bill and SNAP, White House domestic policy adviser Cecelia Munoz said she hasn't seen a "full resolution" to all of the issues but the administration was hopeful they could be resolved.

"There is really quite a very, very big difference with respect to the SNAP program" between the two versions, Munoz said. "And this is a difference which really boils down to a fundamental question of values, which is part of the reason we're produced this report and are on this call today. It does say something about who we are as a society if ... we would even be having a conversation about really taking food off of the table of Americans who need this food, and especially when such a high proportion of them are children, are elders, are veterans, are people with disabilities."

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