Mary Clare Jalonick
The government’s food stamp program, which helps feed 1 in every 7 Americans, was one of the few programs exempted from this year’s automatic spending cuts. But now it is likely to get trimmed. Unresolved is by how much. The Democratic chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee is only willing to take roughly one-half of 1 percent, or about $400 million annually, off the top as the panel prepares to move a massive farm bill through committee next week. Her Republican counterpart in the House, also preparing to consider a farm bill next week, would give the program a makeover and cut it by five times that amount. Neither committee has released its version of the bill, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says he plans to propose a cut of about $2 billion a year. The House bill would also propose changes in the structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), something Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other Senate Democrats have adamantly opposed. Both committees proposed slightly small changes to the program in bills they pushed in the last Congress, but the House leadership has committed to moving a bill, meaning the two sides will have to somehow resolve their differences over food stamps. It won’t be easy, but finding the right amount of food stamp cuts will be the only way farm-state lawmakers can get the five-year farm bill passed. The bill, which also sets policy for farm subsidies and other rural development programs, has historically included food stamps and domestic food aid to gain support of urban lawmakers who may not otherwise vote for the bill. The debate over food stamps doesn’t always fall along party lines—the top republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, has said he won’t support major cuts to food stamps because it is a popular program in his state. Food companies and states, both of which benefit from the program, are also expected to fight changes. On the House side, conservatives are expected to offer amendments to convert the program to block grants to the states, a move that could freeze spending and cut the benefit to many who now receive it. The debate on the floor is expected to be “lively”.