CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would cut about $40 billion from the federal food stamp program over the next 10 years.
More than 47.7 million people nationwide participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The cuts currently being considered in Congress would remove about 6 million people from the program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The cuts are included in the House's reauthorization of the federal farm bill.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., condemned the bill, blaming the cuts on "extremist elements" in the House.
"Snatching food from children and seniors in need is not sensible fiscal policy; it is heartless behavior, contrary to American values," he said in an emailed statement.
"These cuts in nutrition and safety net programs underscore just how nonsensical and ridiculous the House budget process has become, especially when it threatens to shut down the government and derail the economy."
Joel Brubaker, chief of staff for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, said Wednesday the congresswoman had no comment on the bill because she is still reviewing the legislation.
About one in five West Virginians, 352,000 people statewide, are currently enrolled in the SNAP program.
Members of the West Virginia Citizens Action Group on Wednesday held a press conference at the Covenant House homeless shelter in downtown Charleston to urge lawmakers to vote against.
"We feel this is a very wrong-headed way to go," said Gary Zuckett, executive director of the group. "We're talking about playing games with hunger in this country."
Ellen Allen, Covenant House executive driector, said the shelter's food pantry serves about 32 families per day. She said that number would likely increase if SNAP benefits were reduced.
"We still do not have enough to meet the needs of people coming in," she said.
The proposed changes to SNAP would not cause across-the-board cuts to the program, however.
Sean O'Leary with the West Virginia Center for Budget Policy said the current bill focuses on removing SNAP exemptions for families with expensive childcare and housing, as well as unemployed adults living in areas with high unemployment.
The program currently allows families that make too much money to be eligible for SNAP to deduct childcare and housing costs from their total income, making them eligible for food stamps. The bill currently before Congress would remove this exemption, making these families ineligible.
The bill also would remove an exemption allowing certain unemployed people to receive food stamp benefits.
SNAP has traditionally been reserved for people with jobs, but changes to federal law in 2009 allowed states with high unemployment rates, like West Virginia, to give food stamps to childless individuals without jobs. That exemption would go away if the current bill passes.
It is doubtful the House's changes to SNAP will survive the legislative process, however. Few Democrats in the House support the measure, and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate has already passed its own version of the farm bill, leaving SNAP benefits in place.