A deeply divided special House Welfare subcommittee voted 16 to 12 yesterday to do away with most of the $6 billion food stamp program and give poor people cash instead, as President Carter wants.
The subcommittee took the action even though Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman (D-Ore.) warned that it could doom the Carter welfare plan in the House next year.
"You're going to have so many consequences of this action it will inevitably block the decision-making process," Ullman said during a debate that focused at times on whether the poor could be trusted to buy food if they were given cash.
In other votes on equally divisive issues, the subcommittee twice refused to raise to the official federal poverty level the minimum income floor which Carter's plan proposes to place under every American family.
But it did decide that, whatever the income floor finally turns out to be, it should be raised automatically each year in the future to allow for inflation.
Carter wants to set the minimum income at $4,200 for a family of four. Deputy general counsel Dan Marcus of the department of Health, Education and Welfare told the subcommittee the 1978 poverty level for a family of four will be $6,400 a year. He said it would cost $20 billion more a year to raise benefits to that level.
An angry Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D-Calif.) lashed out at those voting against higher benefits, and against paying the benefits all in cash.
We're gonna freeze 'em or starve 'em [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by our actions here this [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] we can all be proud of that. [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] those liberals who voted . . . "Stark said.
"We will continue a hodgepodge of programs to allow them to starve . . . we'll hold them hostage to the farm bill, which is really the push behind these silly food stamps. We'll on the other hand continue to vote for the B-1 [a supersonic bomber for Carter is trying to stop and the House to resurrect] and other [military] programs."
In other votes [WORD ILLEGIBLE] they find they also have to pay Social Security taxes and the cost of getting to and from work. Those costs are reimbursed under present law, but would not be under Carter's plan.
Bangel's attempt to drop the part of Carter's plan that cuts federal benefits nearly in half for the first eight force recepients to look hard for jobs, was defeated.
But he won on a motion to give more federal money to states that choose to pay higher than minimum benefits, as New York does now.
Yesterday's vote completed subcommittee approval of the basic form of Carter's program - the folding of the three major existing welfare programs into one cash program available to all the poor.
The subcommittee voted 10 to 6 Tuesday to scrap Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in favor of the Carter plan.
Scrapping food stamps was controversial in part because several of the subcommittee members have a sizable political investment in the program.
Rep. Frederick W. Richmond (D-N.Y.), who heads the food stamp subcommittee, commented:
"I've seen how attractive food stamps are to people who don't want to apply for welfare . . . God, how much blood, sweat and tears we put into getting an equitable, fair and fraud-free foods stamp program. Why throw that down the drain."
Rep. Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.(, who led the fight to scrap food stamps, indicated that he did so primarily because he thinks Carter's program deserves a chance to be considered intact.
"I am of the opinion that we will be debating this program next spring," he said." . . - think we should give the President of the United States an opportunity to try to bring order out of chaos. . ."
The fight over food stamps, benefit levels and all other aspects of Carter's program does not end with yesterday's vote.
The special subcommittee was created in September by drawing members from the Ways and Means. Agriculture and Education and Labor Committees.
When the subcommittee finishes making its decisions, each of those committees will get a crack at the parts under their jurisdiction. Food stamps could be put back in by the Agriculture Committee. Education and Labor could alter whatever the subcommittee does with the jobs portions of Carter's plan.
Yesterday's vote was not specifically to abolish food stamps, but to pay benefits under the new welfare plan only in cahs, Aides said that, as a practical matter this would leave room only for a small food stamp program serving perhaps a million persons not eligible for cash under the welfare plan, but that such a program would be impractical to administer.
During the session, the subcommittee rejected by voice vote a motion by Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) to pay benefits 25 per cent in food stamps and 75 per cent in cahs.
Fisher voted against scrapping the food stamp program, as did six out of nine voting Republicans, and six out of 13 voting Democrats. There are 29 members on the subcommittee.