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Farm bill pared of food stamps leaves gap

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From page A6 | July 18, 2013 | Leave Comment

The issue: House legislation faces uphill road in Senate, and Obama has pledged to veto it

Republicans in the House of Representatives last week pushed through an agriculture bill that, for the first time since 1973, did not include the nation’s vast food stamp program.

OFFICIALLY KNOWN as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the program represents one of the federal government’s last remaining major anti-poverty initiatives.

Thursday’s 216-to-208 party-line vote experienced particularly acrimonious debate, even by House standards. Conservatives hope to make deep cuts in the food stamp program, which usually represents nearly 80 percent of the agriculture bill’s spending.

The economic recession of 2008-09 and continued high unemployment rates have prompted huge jumps in the number of Americans who must rely on federal assistance to buy food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that SNAP participation rose from 26.3 million people in 2007 to 46.6 million last year.

Nearly one in every six Americans now receives food stamps.

But the growth in costs has been even greater, jumping from $28.6 billion in 2005 to $74.6 billion last year. That nearly tripled expense drew conservative ire — and a little unusual poetry from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas,” he told reporters when asked if he would allow a compromise bill to come to the floor.

THE IDEA OF severing SNAP from the must-pass ag bill was first suggested by Michael Needham of the conservative Heritage Action for America. “The reason Congress should end the unholy alliance that has dominated the food stamp and farm bill for decades is to allow an open and substantive debate on the issues,” the group said last week.

The SNAP-less ag bill is headed for opposition with the Senate, which approved modest cuts to food stamps. President Barack Obama has pledged to veto the measure if it does not contain food stamps supports.

Jim Weill, president of the national anti-hunger organization Food Research and Action Center, vowed that his group would “continue to work toward a farm bill that protects SNAP and the nation’s children, seniors and working families.”

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