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Time To Split Food Stamps From Farm Bill?

WAMC image composite by Dave Lucas

In the aftermath of the Farm Bill’s failure in the House last week, a movement to break it in two is gaining traction.

The 234-195 defeat of the 2013 Farm Bill in the House came as a surprise to many and a wakeup call to some - cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as "food stamps," became a major hurdle to progress in getting Congress to bolster farm and food programs. The $75-billion food stamp program was hotly debated.

One critic of the bill, Representative Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, argued that he could not vote for "a welfare bill passed on the backs of hardworking American farmers." The Republican called for his House colleagues to break up the farm bill: to debate and vote on food stamp policy and farm policy as entirely separate matters. Here's an excerpt from Congressman Stutzman’s floor speech before the House voted last week.

"I believe that we need a Farm Bill but I also believe we need a responsible Farm Bill. Unfortunately, the bill passed out of the Rules Committee last night is a Farm Bill in name only. Eighty percent of the spending goes toward food stamps. This isn’t the solution American taxpayers deserve.  Washington’s unholy alliance of farm policy and nutrition policy has spun out of control and now we will consider a massive trillion dollar spending package called a ‘Farm Bill.’ Mr. Speaker, we must have an up-or-down vote to split the Farm Bill into a true, ‘farm-only’ Farm Bill and a separate food stamp bill. The American people deserve an honest conversation about how Washington spends their money. We’ve made progress by ending direct payments but there’s more work ahead. Let’s do our work in the full light of day by splitting this bill and having serious debates on both farm and welfare policy."

The House bill would have trimmed projected spending on farm and nutrition programs by some $40 billion over the next decade, half that figure involving cuts to food stamps.

Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York, says the original idea behind the Farm Bill was to create a coalition between rural farm interests with urban consumers of food through the food stamp program, which Dunlea admits has grown far larger than expected.

So "why not disconnect SNAP from the farm bill?"  Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, has reservations. She says a strong SNAP program is important to families and farmers.

Congressman Stutzman filed amendments with the House Rules Committee to split the Farm Bill into separate bills on farm and food stamp policy. The amendments were not made in order by the Committee, according to Stutzman’s office.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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