But according to a TIME analysis of county-by-county food-stamp-enrollment data compiled by the nonprofit Feeding America, it appears that House Republicans represent more districts with high levels of participation in the program than House Democrats. Of the 350 congressional districts in which TIME was able to estimate the percentage of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 76 had levels of 20% or higher. Of those, 43 are held by Republicans while 33 are controlled by Democrats.
Nationwide, 15% of Americans (47.7 million people) participate in SNAP, according to Department of Agriculture figures, and the program receives around $80 billion in funding annually.
Over the summer, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed its own version of the bill that trimmed only $4 billion from the program. Negotiators from both chambers met on Wednesday to try to negotiate a compromise on the two bills.
Representative Austin Scott, one of the farm-bill conferees, represents a district in southern Georgia in which approximately 1 in 4 constituents currently receives farm-bill aid, according to the data — considerably above the national average of 15%.
When asked about the program on Tuesday, Scott suggested that abuse of the system warrants the cuts in the House bill.
“Anybody who is realistic acknowledges that there is some abuse in the system, and those abuses need to go away,” Scott said. “We’re going to protect seniors, we’re going to protect the disabled and those that can’t work, but if someone can work, then they’ve got a responsibility to work.”
The farm bill spends around 80% of its $100 billion a year on food stamps. Enrollment in SNAP jumped by nearly 20 million people during the recession, leading many House Republicans to argue that corruption in the program is common.
While congressional districts with the absolute highest levels of enrollment are more likely to be represented by Democrats, many rural districts with very high participation in the program are represented by Republicans leading the charge in cutting billions from the program. In Kentucky’s 5th district, represented by Republican Hal Rogers, 1 in 3 people receives SNAP benefits. After the House passed its version of the farm bill, however, Rogers wrote: “Struggling children, seniors, veterans and families, clearly in need of assistance … compete against scammers, lottery winners, gamblers and others who may be able to work, but simply refuse.”
Because of limitations in Feeding America’s data, which is missing county-level data for about a dozen states, it is not possible to make a definitive correlation between SNAP enrollment in a district and the party of the member who represents it in Congress. (It is also difficult to translate county data into congressional districts in small or highly gerrymandered districts, leading to some margin of error.) Based on the available figures, there does not appear to be a significant difference in food-stamp usage in Democratic or Republican districts, with both averages in the neighborhood of the national mean.