The Senate pushed its version of a Farm Bill through a procedural cloture vote on Thursday, paving the way for a full Senate debate on the massive piece of legislation that will guide agricultural and food policy over the next five years.
Advocates for the poor, however, are up in arms as representatives from both major political parties are readying dramatic cuts to the nation's food assistance program that will negatively impact millions of the nation's most vulnerable families.
As the new Farm Bill moves towards its final stage in the Senate, proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) threaten to cut at least $4 billion from the key program over the next decade.
Michigan's Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, who authored large portions of the Senate's bill, has defended the slashed funding to SNAP by saying the cuts are not nearly as drastic as those put forth by the GOP-controlled House.
But anti-poverty advocates, not to mention numerous economists, say the current economy demands increased support for those living on or near the edge of hunger, not an erosion of the life-saving assistance.
According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), eighty-three percent of all SNAP benefits go to households with a child, senior, or disabled person. Another 83 percent of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty guideline – that’s $19,530 for a family of three in 2013.
Following the Senate's cloture vote, the Associated Press reports:
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Food stamps have for decades been part of the farm bill in a bid by rural lawmakers to gain urban votes for the measure. But this year, food stamps have made passage more difficult. Conservatives in the House have argued that the program, which has doubled in cost since 2008, needs an overhaul. Senate Democrats have been reluctant to touch it.
Last year more around 47 million people used SNAP. The rolls rose rapidly because of the economic downturn, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under the 2009 economic stimulus law.
But, as McClatchy reports:
The anti-hunger lobbyists are especially disappointed by Democrats who in recent weeks have voted for the cuts in legislation that passed the House of Representatives and Senate agriculture committees last month, measures that also contain controversial aid to farmers.
“Food stamps have been protected for decades,” said Ellen Teller, the head of governmental affairs for [FRAC]. “This is the first time they’re being cut for deficit reduction. We think it’s wrong to pay down the deficit on the backs of the poor.”
Teller and others who work to protect low-income Americans are dismayed because food stamps were among the safety net programs that Congress exempted from the forced across-the-board cuts now in effect under the system known as sequestration.
Further reading: Congress' Farm Bill Readies to Kick Poor Off Food Assistance