Washington The House Agriculture Committee approved budget cuts Friday that would take food stamps away from an estimated 300,000 people and could cut off school lunches and breakfasts for 40,000 children.
The action came as the government reported that the number of people who are hungry because they can't afford to buy enough food rose to 38.2 million in 2004, an increase of 7 million in five years. The number represents nearly 12 percent of U.S. households.
"If there are cuts to be made, why should we make them on food stamps?" said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. "This is the meanest cut of all."
The cuts, approved by the Republican-controlled committee on a party-line vote, are part of an effort by the House GOP to curb federal spending by $50 billion. The food and agriculture cuts would reduce spending by $3.7 billion, including $844 million on nutrition, $760 million on conservation and $212 million on payments to farmers.
"The fact is, our country is going broke," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. "We're spending money we don't have and passing it onto our kids, and at some point, somebody's got to say, 'Enough's enough.'"
The $574 million reduction in food stamp spending would affect families who receive food stamps because they receive other non-cash government assistance.
The change is estimated to shut out up to 300,000 people from the program.
The restriction also could take free meals away from an estimated 40,000 school children, because children in many states are automatically eligible for school meals when they get food stamps, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The White House proposed the restriction earlier this year.
The bill would also raise the waiting period for food stamps for legal immigrants from five to seven years.
Senate GOP leaders are seeking to curb spending by $39 billion and have been more reluctant to cut government benefit programs.
The Senate Agriculture Committee spared food stamps in approving a similar budget bill last week and voted for greater reductions in farm payments and conservation.
The House committee voted to shave $212 million from direct payments to farmers, a 1 percent reduction over the next four years. Cuts to commodity programs totaled $1 billion and include repeal of a federal cotton subsidy to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling against the program.