Posted on

Lawmakers reach deal on farm bill

Congressional negotiators reached a final deal Monday on a five-year, $500 billion farm bill that cuts $24 billion over a decade, with the largest cuts coming in the food stamp program.

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators completed work on a new five-year $500 billion farm bill Monday, bringing closer to an end more than two years of struggles over the much-delayed legislation.

The farm bill would save an estimated $24 billion over 10 years, with about a third of the spending cuts coming from the popular food stamp program. The proposed legislation also would mark the end of $5 billion in annual direct payments, increase the number of crop insurance programs available to farmers and require farmers to follow conservation compliance measures to receive subsidies.

The 41 House and Senate lawmakers on the conference committee completed the legislation Monday, with the bill expected to advance to a vote in the full House Wednesday. The Senate could act as soon as next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that the farm bill is one of his top priorities.

“We are so close to having a new bill that we need to concentrate on getting it done,” said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who is a member of the farm bill conference committee. “This is basically a sound, balanced, bipartisan bill.”

Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said a farm bill is “desperately needed” to provide a stable source of funding for nutrition programs and give agriculture producers a strong safety net while allowing them to more easily make long-term plans.

“We support swift movement forward on this immensely important legislation, because so much is hanging in the balance when it comes to food production and food security of our nation,” Hill said. “We cannot keep delaying a farm bill passage; the time to act is now.”

Final passage of the farm bill would cap a lengthy process that has seen discussions collapse more than once, most recently last summer when the GOP-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate were far apart on how much to cut food stamps — officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The program is used by an estimated 47.5 million people. The House had been looking for nearly $40 billion in cuts while the Senate targeted $4.5 billion.

The compromise on food stamps was settled by farm bill negotiators weeks ago. Lawmakers are expected to cut about $8 billion during the next decade in food stamp spending by making changes to a heating assistance program used by some states to determine whether an individual qualifies for the SNAP program.

In some states, if a resident receives as little as $1 a year in heating assistance, they automatically qualify for an average of $1,080 annually in additional food stamps. The farm bill is expected to set the new minimum at $20, limiting potential abuse of the food stamp program.

Originally published by USA Today on 1/24/2014: