(Chicago) – April 3, 2012. Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana reintroduced legislation last month to cut $40 billion from federal farming support and federal nutrition assistance funding, which could eliminate food stamps for 74,000 already hungry Illinois residents, including 15,000 in Chicago.
Those estimates come from a Chicago-based nutrition group which helps feed and sustain low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.
“A legislative plan by Senator Lugar to cut federal food stamp spending alone by $14 billion over 10 years as part of the 2012 Farm Bill reauthorization would eliminate nutrition assistance to more than 74,000 Illinois residents, of which more than 15,000 would be in Chicago,” said Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care/Heartland Health Alliance Chief Health Care Strategist Deborah Hinde.
“It would deepen an already overwhelming nutrition problem in Chicago,” Hinde added.
Lugar’s plan, Senate Bill 1658, aims to be part of the overall Farm Bill 2012 reauthorization that is to take place in 2012, says Hinde,
Nationally, the Food Research and Action Center estimates that Lugar’s bill would eliminate food stamp eligibility for one million people and deprive 200,000 children of school meals.
“The reauthorization will address all elements of the Farm Bill – subsidies, supplemental nutrition assistance, the emergency food program, and big cuts, like Lugar’s are looming,” said Hinde. “It won’t be pretty – and that is putting it mildly.”
In Illinois, as of November 2011, there were 1,850,593 food stamp recipients in Illinois or 14.4% of the population. That is an overall 6.8% jump over last year.
Regionally, in 2011, state food stamp growth jumped 46% in Cook County, 133% in DuPage County, 84% in Lake County, 96% in Kane County, 168% in McHenry County and 74% in Will County, underscoring the steep increase in poverty in Chicago’s collar counties.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee held a field hearing in Galesburg, Illinois on March 23, 2012. It was the second of four hearings to be held across the country throughout March and April to gather input in advance of writing the 2012 Farm Bill.
Hinde also warned that senior households are at greater risk food insecurity.
Analysis of federal data from the Current Population Survey’s Food Security Supplement shows that in 2009, about 19% of households with adults ages 60 and over with low incomes–under 185 percent of the poverty line–were food insecure. In comparison, slightly less than 15 percent of all households were food insecure.
“Shrinking food stamp coverage will likely hit senior citizens the hardest,” said Hinde.
Additionally, Hinde noted that the federal food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has successfully eliminated waste, fraud, and abuse in the last decade.
The national payment error rate reported for the program, which combines states’ over-payments and underpayments to program participants, has declined by 56% from 1999 to 2009, from 9.86% to a record low of 4.36%, Hinde noted.
“The food stamp program is working at a 95% efficiency and accuracy rate,” said Hinde, “The people who legitimately are food insecure are legitimately receiving food assistance.”
“If Congress approves a version of the Lugar bill, 74,000 Illinois residents are going to be hit hard and seniors will be hit the hardest,” said Hinde.
“An efficient food assistance program that is a life-line for Illinois residents will be undermined. It hurts our most vulnerable residents and it hurts the economy – as every dollar of food assistance is a dollar spent in our communities.”