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August 10, 2010; Source: Politico | It has come to this: To fund or actually save some social programs, others have to bite the dust. This is going to pit nonprofit constituencies against each other as Congress faces “Sophie’s Choice” decisions.

To pay for a $26.1 billion package of aid to state governments that will save teachers’ jobs and postpone cuts in Medicaid, Congress will cut $11.9 billion from food stamps. The executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger called the impending Congressional action “the big disaster,” questioning why in tough economic times, congress would take money from the food stamp program.

The food stamp cuts won’t go into effect until 2014, so this Congress has essentially passed the buck (or the lack of bucks) to a future Congress to explain. The director of government relations for Bread for the World described the cuts as “really taking from people in need and giving to other people in need, instead of making some real hard decisions about our budget and our values.”

Congressman David Obey (D-WI) noted that the food stamp suggestion came from the Obama Administration, though “they were careful not to make an official budget request because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it.” So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to corral the troops to vote through this Hobbsian choice.

Given the continuing troubles in the economy, the federal budget, and the deficit, this will not be the last difficult choice Congress will encounter in the coming months. Some nonprofits will be perched on tenuous ledges as these budget choices cascade and multiply until the economy and tax revenues right themselves.—Rick Cohen