Should Congress Be Using the Farm Bill to Cut Food Stamps?

Both House and Senate versions of the farm bill cut billions from food stamps.

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A sign announces the acceptance of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards at a farmers' market in Roseville, Calif.

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On Thursday the House Committee on Agriculture approved a version of the legislation known as the farm bill that cuts $16.5 billion from food stamps, $12 billion more than the cuts approved in the Senate's version last month. Eighty percent of farm bill funding goes towards food stamps.

The two versions of the bill will have to be reconciled between the chambers before a uniform bill can be passed by both the House and Senate. Some Republicans oppose entitlement programs and argue that the bills don't go far enough to cut spending amidst a ballooning deficit, while Democrats say the food stamp cuts unfairly target those who rely on them.

"Today marked an important step forward in the development of the next farm bill," said Republican Rep. Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, who chairs the House agriculture committee. "This is a balanced, reform-minded, fiscally responsible bill that underscores our commitment to production agriculture and rural America, achieves real savings and improves program efficiency."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), feed 45 million Americans every year. The number of people receiving food stamps has grown exponentially since 2007 when the country entered a recession. Economic recovery has been slow, forcing families to continue their reliance on the program.

Connecticut Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro said up to 3 million people could lose their food stamp benefits if the current House bill gets passed, and 300,000 children would no longer receive free school lunches.

"These cuts are a slap in the face to millions of people trying to make ends meet," said California Democrat Rep. Lynn Woolsey.

The bill approved by the agriculture committee faces a ticking clock in being sent before the full House for a vote: Congress is only scheduled to be in session until August 3, and a five-year farm bill must be passed before September 30 when the current version, passed in 2008, expires.  

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