At least 28 Democrats have signed off on a measure aimed at helping those hurt by an increase in food stamp recipients amid an economy teetering on recession, according to a Democratic aide.
Though not exactly a rebranding, the new language represents a bit of backpedaling by the party, which has faced backlash from critics on the left who said it seeks to roll back protections for vulnerable Americans.
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The House Democratic leadership last month backed away from its initial support for a measure to do just that. And with major midterm elections in November, some Democrats feared alienating their base if they pursued policies that would anger voters.
During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said that the focus on Republicans was “obvious” as members of the minority party navigate a tricky midterm year. “Frankly, I don’t think people in the middle care what Republicans do,” she said.
Her comment came as new figures were released showing that 11.8 million Americans, a record, are receiving the benefit. That figure also includes roughly 1.8 million who previously had been eligible for food stamps, but weren’t.
Both Democrats and Republicans face charges that they are reneging on promises to protect the “just transition” rule, which was put in place in the 1990s to give people with federal assistance due to food stamp benefits some time to transition to the more comprehensive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps.
But the move, Pelosi said, would hurt the poor by tying recipients’ ability to move to the food stamp program to what Congress does at any given time. “The good thing is people don’t really understand it, the bad thing is that people don’t understand it,” she said.
The amendment’s recent introduction also raised eyebrows because it came less than a week after Pelosi met with the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and administration officials to hash out the government’s next spending plan. The White House and Congress have an estimated 13-day deadline to reach a deal.
Democrats opted to amend the food stamp bill to prevent itself from looking like they were looking to simply help recipients move to other federal assistance. Many of the changes are relatively minor, such as not including an expansion of school breakfast and lunch benefits in new legislation that otherwise would help cut the deficit by $10bn over the next decade.