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Congress battles over food stamp program

WASHINGTON -- The House Agriculture Committee on Thursday unveiled its approach for a long-term farm and food bill that would reduce spending by $3.5 billion a year, almost half of that coming from cuts in the federal food stamp program.

The legislative draft envisions reducing current food stamp spending projections by $1.6 billion a year, four times the amount of cuts incorporated in the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill passed by the Senate last month.

Food stamps look to be the most contentious issue when the Agriculture Committee begins voting on the bill Wednesday and when the full House begins debating it in the future.

Conservatives in the Republican-led House are certain to demand greater cuts in the food stamps program, which makes up about 80 percent of the nearly $100 billion a year in spending under the farm bill. Senate Democrats are equally certain to resist more cuts in a program that now helps feed 46 million people, 1 out of every 7 Americans.

"Underfunding this critically important program when families temporarily rely on it to put food on the table in a tough economy is irresponsible and inhumane," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a food stamp advocate in the House. The Agriculture Committee said its bill would strengthen the program's integrity while better targeting assistance to those in need of it.

"America's children, seniors and 1.5 million veteran households facing a constant struggle against hunger deserve better from Congress," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The House proposal, like the Senate measure that passed on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, also does away with the much-criticized direct payment system whereby farmers get federal assistance even when they don't plant a crop. Both put greater emphasis on crop insurance to help farmers get through natural disasters and falling prices.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

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