House and Senate Committees Each Approve Separate Farm Bills Taking Substantial Cuts from Food Stamps Program

The House and Senate Agricultural Committees this week each passed separate versions of HR 1947, a farm program reauthorization bill. Although both vary in the severity of cuts taking place, each will take considerable funds away from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The cuts come as efforts to reform “the farm bill,” which structures the country’s agricultural economic system.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

The Senate bill, passed Tuesday, would cut $4.1 billion from SNAP over the course of ten years. The House version, passed Wednesday, cuts $20.5 billion. The full Senate is set to debate the legislation Monday; the House will debate their version in June.

The farm bill is overdue for reform, and efforts to pass it last year failed in the House. As of now, the farm bill in place is the version from 2008, extended until September 30. If the legislation ultimately makes it out of Congress, it will lay out a spending plan for farming subsidies and nutritional programs for the next five years. House Agricultural Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma, praised the bill’s initial passage as proof of “common ground,” but the bill’s bipartisan coalition of support stems in great part from Representatives Lucas and Colin C. Peterson’s (MI-DFL) decision to increase the SNAP program budget cuts from an initial $16 billion in hopes of attracting more Republican support. Those who voted against the proposed bill were mostly Democrats.

Representative Jim Costa (D-CA), voted for the bill. “There is too much good in this bill to let it die,” he said. He also warned, however, that “we still have more work to do to ensure the 2013 farm bill works for all Americans, including revisiting cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”

SNAP has experienced growth over the last decade, due in great part to the economic recession. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that two million people could be eliminated if the program is cut at these rates, with most of the disadvantaged being seniors or children. Poor families, which are often headed by single mothers, would be hit the hardest. American women are more likely to live in poverty than menacross the United States.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) and other Democrats on the House Committee offered an amendment to restore the proposed cuts to the program. It was defeated along party lines in a vote of 27 to 17 after heated debate about the food stamp program cuts, with multiple legislators using religious beliefs to sustain their respective political viewpoints.

“Christians, Muslims, Jews, whatever – we are failing our brothers and sisters,” McGovern said.

Media Resources: Marketplace 5/17/13; The Bakersfield Californian 5/16/13; The New York Times 5/16/13; Roll Call 5/17/13; Ms. Magazine 8/5/10

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