Senate passes farm bill

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New bill reforms food stamps, farm subsidies

The U.S. Senate passed a new farm bill that will save taxpayers more than $23 billion over the life of the bill. The bill has been sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign the bill in to law on Friday.

The bill has been discussed in Congress over the past three years. The Senate recently rejected an earlier farm bill passed by the House of Representatives that included much more substantial cuts to federal aid programs.

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U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) called the new bill a win for Alabama farmers. “This new five-year Farm Bill is a win for Alabama farmers and foresters,” Rep. Roby said. “The bill is also a win for taxpayers. It replaces outdated policies left over from the Pelosi-led Congress and represents a positive step toward fiscal responsibility. Reforms included in the bill will save taxpayers more than $23 billion, including $8 billion alone within the food stamp program.”

The farm bill’s reform of the SNAP program, commonly known as food stamps, represents the first meaningful reform of the program since the welfare reforms of 1996.

The bill will cut food stamp funding by $800 million per year for the life of the bill. The bill accomplishes this savings by closing a loophole that artificially increased benefit levels for food stamp recipients who received heating assistance from the state. In addition, the reforms also ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students and the deceased can no longer receive benefits.

The farm bill also changed the way in which agricultural subsidies are administered. The bill repealed the direct payment program, which paid government subsidies directly to farmers whether they actually farmed or not. Subsidies are now tied to the price and production of farmer’s crops. Subsidies now only kick in if a farmer has losses on his crops. While there used to be no cap on the amount of money given in subsidies to farmers, the new bill sets a cap of $125,000.

Locally, peanut farmers in the Wiregrass will be happy with the passage of the bill as the bill increased the amount of subsidies available to peanut farmers. The bill also strengthened federal support for crop insurance, a move highly popular in the agricultural community.

Rep. Roby said the bill will especially help Alabama farmers. “It (the bill) makes sure federal agriculture policy treats Alabama crops like peanuts and cotton fairly,” Roby said. “It includes smart revisions to EPA rules that will help boost our forestry industry and improve irrigation in our state.”

While the bill is not perfect, Roby said it was a good start. “We need farm and nutrition policies that make sense,” Roby said. “This new Farm Bill isn’t perfect, and work toward more reforms will certainly continue. However, passage of this farm bill represents a major step in the right direction.”

The bill passed in the House 251-166 and in the Senate 68-32.