Friday, December 20, 2013

Farm Bill said to cut food stamps relatively little; payment limits, insurance-conservation link at risk

Congress has gone home for the holidays, but details about the Farm Bill keep leaking out as negotiators approach agreement on a compromise between the House and Senate versions.

The bill "is likely to cut the food-stamp program by $8 billion over a decade, a key Democratic senator said on Thursday, an amount that is a fraction of the cuts demanded by many Republican lawmakers," Reuters reports. "While conservatives want stricter eligibility rules that would disqualify up to 4 million recipients and save $40 billion over 10 years, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, said the expected $8 billion in savings would be generated by . . . by setting a higher threshold of government assistance to pay utility bills, a program that can trigger food-stamp aid."

Kristina Peterson of The Wall Street Journal reports, "A household would have to receive at least $20 in annual payments through a federal energy assistance program to qualify for a utility allowance which, when deducted from a household's income, can result in a larger food-stamp benefit. Some states currently give food-stamp recipients a nominal 'heat and eat' payment of $1 or another token sum to help households leverage larger food-stamp benefits."

The Senate bill called for food-stamp cuts of $4 billion over the next 10 years. What remains unclear about food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is whether there will be any other language to limit eligibility. "A Republican aide has said that tighter work requirements were imperative if spending cuts were $10 billion or less," Reuters reports.

On farm subsidies, conflict between the South and Midwest continue. "Southern interests are fighting to remove the caps on payments to farmers that were championed by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D," reports Denise Ross of The Daily Republic in Mitchell.  "Johnson said he worked with other senators to craft language that placed a hard cap on direct payments to farmers and would 'ensure that only individuals actually engaged in the operations of a farm are able to receive payments.'"

South Dakota's other senator, Republican John Thune, "said a provision linking crop-insurance subsidies to participation in conservation programs is under siege. Both spoke to reporters Wednesday during separate conference calls." (Read more)

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