US lawmakers vote to cut food stamp benefits from 2014

US President Barack Obama at a soup kitchen
Image caption The White House has threatened to veto the bill aimed at cutting food stamp benefits

US lawmakers have narrowly voted to cut food stamp benefits from next year despite a veto threat from the White House and opposition by lobby groups.

The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the bill by 217-200. But it has little chance in the Democratic-held Senate.

The bill would save $39bn (£24bn) over a decade, but affect four million people on the programme.

It comes a day after census data showed 15% of Americans live in poverty.

An estimated one in seven Americans - most of them children, elderly or disabled - receive food stamps.

'Let them starve' bill

The bill aims to cut $4bn a year, representing about 5% of the current programme.

The budget savings would be achieved by allowing states to use work requirements for recipients and test applicants for drugs. It would also end waivers to allow able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

According to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap), the food programme bill has tripled since 2004 and cost about $78bn last year.

On Wednesday, the White House threatened to veto the legislation, claiming the "cuts would affect a broad array of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work".

The Congressional Budget Office says that if the bill were enacted, up to 3.8 million people could lose their benefits next year.

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who led the legislative push, said it was "wrong for working, middle-class people to pay" for abuse of the programme.

Every Democrat voting on Thursday opposed the bill. Fifteen Republicans voted against the measure.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it a "full assault on the health and economic security of millions of families".

Another Democratic congressman, Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett, called it the "let them starve" bill.

The measure is likely to go nowhere in the Senate - Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow labelled it "a monumental waste of time".

A bill passed in the Senate in June cut food stamps by $400m a year, one tenth of the House cuts.

The two chambers will have to negotiate the differences between the plans before any cuts come into effect.

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