Radical Republicans

Owsley County KyHal Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, represents Owsley county and got 84 percent of its vote. His 5th congressional district in southeast Kentucky has the largest proportion of food stamp recipients among any held by a Republican, the data shows. Kentucky’s Owsley County, which backed Romney with 81 percent of its vote, has the largest proportion of food stamp recipients among those that he carried.

Stella Marshall is among the food stamp users in Owsley County. Around the fifth of each month, she heads to a discount grocery store to buy staples: macaroni, beans, corn meal and peanut butter. At the checkout, she swipes the Electronic Benefit Transfer card that carries the $352 in food stamps she receives each month. “Of all the things they could cut in America, it shouldn’t be the food stamp program,” said Marshall, 58, who received Social Security disability payments and is raising three grandchildren, ages 7 through 17, in Booneville, Kentucky, on a monthly income of $1,255, all from the state or federal government.

The program, in part because of its rapid growth, became a target for Republicans in their ongoing fight with President Barack Obama and other Democrats over reducing federal budget deficits. Food stamp expenditures grew to $78 billion last year, more than double the amount when the recession started, and has 47 million recipients. In addition, the program has been subjected to allegations of fraud.

More than half of the Owsley County’s population — 52 percent — received food stamps in 2011, the most recent yearly number available. The county, which in 2012 was 97.6 percent non-Hispanic white and had 4,722 residents, had a median household income of $19,344, well below the Kentucky median of $42,248 and the $52,762 figure nationally, U.S. census data shows. Roughly four in 10 residents live below the poverty line.

After Rogers was criticized for his votes in an editorial by the Lexington Herald-Leader, he and other Kentucky lawmakers responded with a letter the newspaper published.

“We supported both versions of the farm bill because we believe we must strengthen our social safety net for those who need it by reforming our broken food stamp system that, according to the Obama administration, has sent $2.7 billion in improper SNAP payments so far this year,” the letter said. “Reforming the food stamp program is not about being ’spiteful’ or denying people benefits; it’s about eliminating the waste that prevents Kentucky families who truly need help from getting it.”

Edited from a report at Bloomberg News.

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