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Published April 21 2012

Heitkamp: Berg misleads on SNAP cuts

FARGO – Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp is calling out her opponent for allegedly misleading the public about the impact of proposed spending cuts to a major low-income nutrition program.

On Thursday, the House Ag Committee approved

$33 billion in cuts over the next 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The committee’s spending reductions avoided any cuts to farm programs, a feature Rep. Rick Berg, the GOP Senate candidate for 2012, praised in a conference call with North Dakota media.

Berg said the committee’s cuts targeted “low-priority, duplicative or wasteful” programs.

Such waste, in this case, was in SNAP, where certain categories allow individuals to qualify for benefits beyond simply their household income.

Berg said, though, that “there’s not one person that currently qualifies (for SNAP) that’s cut from the program” because of the proposed spending reductions.

However, non-profits and think-tanks are saying otherwise, and Heitkamp’s campaign is using the data to call out Berg.

“This is another example of Rep. Berg trying to hide his record of looking out for himself, rather than doing what’s best for North Dakota,” Heitkamp spokesman Brandon Lorenz said. “It’s hard to imagine a more unseemly display of self interest than for the 14th-most wealthy member of the U.S. House to … mislead North Dakotans about his desire to cut nutrition assistance from seniors and children.”

The $33 billion in cuts to SNAP targeted mostly the program’s administration budget and various eligibility loopholes.

For instance, the government would save $14.3 billion over 10 years by eliminating an automatic link between SNAP and LIHEAP, which offers home-heating assistance to low-income families.

That tie between the two programs allowed some families to receive more SNAP benefits than their household income alone might qualify them for.

But the consequence of eliminating that link could affect 4.7 million SNAP recipients, according to the non-profit Food Research and Action Center, which opposed the Ag Committee’s cuts.

Meanwhile, a liberal-leaning think tank reported as many as 2 million individuals would lose SNAP benefits entirely.

The 44 million Americans who’d still qualify for SNAP would see their benefits cut, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A family of four could lose $57 a month, the center said.

Berg campaign spokesman Chris Van Guilder maintained the proposed budget cuts would not affect anyone who qualifies for SNAP based on household income.

“The truth is that if you are currently eligible for assistance benefits, you will continue to receive them,” Van Guilder said. “It’s clear that Heidi Heitkamp is going to run a false and negative campaign.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541