Kicking Off Food Drive, McGovern Again Takes Aim At Proposed Food Stamp Cuts

By Shujie Leng

BU Washington News Service

WASHINGTON–Flanked by his staff, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.,, Wednesday morning put a bag of pantry food into one of four boxes located in the foyer of Capitol Hill’s Rayburn House Office Building – as he helped to promote the first year of a food drive organized by the Hoops for Youth Foundation and the American League of Lobbyists.

As he unloaded such staples as canned tomatoes, pasta, pinto bins, oatmeal, salad dressing and popcorn, McGovern — who chairs the House Hunger Caucus — seized the opportunity to again take aim at proposed cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

McGovern is currently a member of the House-Senate conference committee on the farm bill, which is seeking a compromise between a plan adopted by the Republican-controlled House to cut $40 billion in SNAP benefits over the next decade, and a proposal by the Democratic-majority Senate to slice $4 billion during the same period.

“I want no cuts,” declared McGovern, who charged that SNAP has been subjected to unfair criticism.

“What is angering me about this whole debate is that…we are arguing against distortions,” McGovern added. “The SNAP program is one of the most efficiently run programs in the federal government.”

Facing the prospect that SNAP cuts may be inevitable in the final version of the farm bill,  McGovern said he might turn to Massachusetts officials for help. A McGovern spokesman said later that the legislator has spoken with John Polanowicz, secretary of the Massachusetts Health and Human Services Department, about ways to exercise greater administrative flexibility so as to avoid possible cuts to SNAP recipients.

McGovern also suggested he would appeal to the White House for help to increase the pressure against SNAP cuts in the farm bill negotiations. This could include an appeal to the White House to veto the farm bill if the cuts are too deep,McGovern’s spokesman said.

“Look, at the end of the day, on the farm bill, the best we might be able to get is—do no harm,” McGovern said. “But that’s a hell of a lot better than the $40 billion cut.”

Planning for the food drive that McGovern helped to promote Wednesday began last month, according to Pax Wade, director of the Hoops for Youth Foundation – which has worked to support at-risk children since 1999.

Around three weeks ago, Ms. Wade, aided by volunteers, started to contact congressional offices and received some positive response from several House members.

Because current rules do not allow placement of food bank collection boxes within the offices of individual members of Congress, Wade decided to hold Wednesday’s event in a small open area on the House side of the Capitol, and invited several legislators to speak on issues relating to food and hunger.

The original goal was to collect 2,500 pounds of food, she said. But before they arrived at the Rayburn House Office Building Wednesday, sponsors of the drive had already received about 3,000 pounds of food from several firms affiliated with the American League of Lobbyists.

In just three hours Wednesday, the drive had collected another 350 pounds of food from House offices. The food will be later distributed to food banks in the District of Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia through the Capitol Area Food Bank, which serves 500,000 people in the greater Washington area.

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