The House Agriculture Committee has begun work on a five-year farm bill that would make small cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program.
The panel is making cuts to help sway conservatives who say the food aid has become too costly. The legislation would cut about 3 percent, or $2.5 billion, to the program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
A senate version of the bill, which was derailed last year after the House failed to vote on its version, is sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
"Reforming agriculture programs will save taxpayers billions of dollars while helping Michigan farmers, ranchers and small businesses create jobs," Stabenow said. "Because the Agriculture Committee worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries."
The legislation, which is nearly identical to the legislation passed by the Senate last year, would make cuts partly by eliminating "broad-based categorical eligibility," or automatic food stamp benefits when people sign up for other programs.
It would leave in place programs from the Depression-era that supports sugar growers as well as providing support for cattle and poultry producers who were affected by last years tough conditions.
The biggest change in the bill is the end of direct payments to farmers. Previously, the farmers have been paid whether they grow crops or not.
The farm bill costs almost $100 billion annually and would set policy for farm subsidies, rural programs and the food aid. The House panel is considering the legislation Wednesday, one day after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version.
A farm bill sets the national agriculture policy and must be passed every five years. If a new farm bill is not passed by September 30, the U.S. reverts back to the 1940's agriculture policy, which Stabenow calls "an antiquated patchwork of costly subsidies and other badly outdated programs."