Why Be So Tough on Our Children? : Food stamp reform, yes; malnourished kids, no


House Republicans propose severe cuts in the federal food stamp program, the program widely used by many Americans who work every day but can’t make enough to adequately feed their families. The GOP’s approach would indeed reduce the costs of the $27-billion program, but that goal should not be achieved at the expense of children.

Children represent the majority of food stamp recipients. They are hungry because their parents are on welfare or work at minimum-wage jobs. Or they are hungry because their parents were laid off, a sadly common misfortune in California.

The House Republican proposal is too tough on children. It is also too tough on legal immigrants. It would deny food stamps to all legal immigrants, including those who have worked and paid taxes. These people have earned such benefits. Why punish those who have played by the rules? This prohibition also would hurt California disproportionately, because 25% of the nation’s legal immigrants live here.


The GOP would require able-bodied recipients between the ages of 18 and 50 to work for their food stamps or lose benefits after 90 days. But work where? Food stamp use rises during times of high unemployment. In those circumstances, a 90-day deadline is too short, though a “work ethic” policy is worth pursuing.

The proposed revision would freeze spending on the program for five years. A freeze would do no harm as long as the economy performs well, but during a major recession, like the one California is emerging from, it would force even deeper cuts and shred the federal safety net.

The Senate must be wiser. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Indiana) should craft a compromise that protects children without sacrificing the economic stability of farmers and grocers, who also benefit from the program.

The Clinton Administration also must do more to reduce fraud and cut costs. To attack cheating by some retailers, a recurring problem in the program, the Administration has proposed severe punishments for chronic offenders, including forfeiture of assets. To track food stamp purchases, the Administration endorses an electronic benefits transfer program, which allows recipients to use cards similar to ATM bank cards rather than coupons. These are good ideas.

When children are denied proper nutrition during their formative years, they grow up more likely to become a medical or social burden to taxpayers. To avoid these consequences, children must be absolutely protected in any food stamp reform.

House Republicans want to reduce the cost of food stamps to reduce the federal deficit. The goal is good; everything in the budget needs to be looked at. But America’s children must be protected from malnutrition.