Senate Tees Up Farm Bill, States Face Cuts

This week, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to consider the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. The bill would extend U.S. agriculture programs for five years, and in a Congress marked by short-term extensions, this is nothing short of miraculous. The path to passage does not come without some speed bumps, though.

The last full, five-year Farm Bill was signed into law in 2008. Without either the passage of another five-year bill or short-term extension of existing programs, there would be immediate serious implications for food safety and both the domestic and international agricultural economy. The 2012 Farm Bill, however, makes some major changes.

States will want to note that food stamps are paid for through the Farm Bill, and this year’s bill would extend the program for low-income families through 2017 with a $4 billion cut in funding. Some of this savings comes from the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would make it harder to qualify for LIHEAP to help with utility bills, and “nearly 500,000 households each year would have their SNAP (food stamps) benefits reduced by an average of $90 per month.”

Before the Farm Bill can be considered by the full Senate, leadership has to agree on an amendment process. According to Erik Wasson in The Hill, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to eliminate ‘non-germane’ amendments but his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is arguing that the must-pass legislation is a prime opportunity to enact a GOP priority wish list of anti-regulation legislation.”

Lest we forget that it is an election year.

While there seems to be a fair chance the Farm Bill will pass the Senate, the U.S. House also is moving its version of the bill, though the bill has not yet passed out of the full Agriculture Committee. While the House bill is still undergoing substantial changes, House leadership will almost certainly take a larger swipe at SNAP.

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