Some Democrats are upset and advocacy groups are outraged over the raiding of the food-stamp cupboard to fund a state-aid bailout that some call a gift to teachers and government union workers.
House members convened Tuesday and passed the multibillion-dollar bailout bill for cash-strapped states that provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won't be let go before the new school year begins, keeping more than 160,000 teachers on the job, the Obama administration says.
But the bill also requires that $12 billion be stripped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help fund the new bill, prompting some Democrats to cringe at the notion of cutting back on one necessity to pay for another. The federal assistance program currently helps 41 million Americans.
Arguably one of the most outspoken opponents on the Democratic side is Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has blasted the move as “a bitter pill to swallow” but still voted yes.
“I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act, and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year,” DeLauro said in an e-mail sent to FoxNews.com. “But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid Draconian cuts to essential services for low income families.”
The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that several state advocacy groups, including the Texas Food Book Network and the Houston Food Bank, rallied for House members to strike down the legislation, which passed 247-161 in the House. Three Democrats voted against the measure, while two Republicans voted in support of it.
Democratic rank and file members, including Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, say the cuts won’t take effect until 2014 and will merely return food stamp benefits to pre-stimulus levels.
The Food Research and Action Center said a family of four would see benefits drop about $59 per month starting in 2014.
"While we support the education initiatives (in the bill), we adamantly oppose using food stamps to pay for them," said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center. "The rain on food stamps to pay for other things absolutely has to stop and stop now."
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the number of people on the food stamp rolls has been growing to record levels for 18 straight months. Nearly $5.5 billion in aid went out to beneficiaries in May alone. The number of May recipients marked a 19 percent increase from a year ago and the USDA projects that next year's enrollment will reach about 43.4 million.
Republicans, meanwhile, vocally opposed the state aid bill. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News it rewarded "irresponsible states" and their unions.
"It is basically taxpayers from fiscally (responsible) states bailing out fiscally irresponsible states. ... Medicaid funding, teacher funding, the more popular of the public unions, what this is, it's a bailout to prevent states from doing the necessary spending prioritization that they need do," he said.
The Obama administration pushed hard for the $26 billion bill. The White House argued that it is essential to protecting 300,000 teachers and other nonfederal government workers from election-year layoffs and will not add to the national deficit.
"If we do nothing, these educators won't be returning to the classroom this fall, and that won't just deprive them of a paycheck, it will deprive the children and parents who are counting on them to provide a decent education," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden shortly before the bill passed on Tuesday.
"This proposal is fully paid for, in part by closing tax loopholes that encourage corporations that ships American jobs overseas. So it will not add to our deficit," he said. "And the money will only go toward saving the jobs of teachers and other essential professionals...I urge members of both parties to come together and get this done, so that I can sign this bill into law."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.