The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is the main topic holding up approval of a new farm bill as Republicans and Democrats square off over budget cuts in the program which supplies food to people who qualify for the assistance. The SNAP program comprises about 80 percent of the farm bill’s expected $500 billion cost.
Government spending on food stamps has been increasing steadily but especially over the last decade. From 2001 to 2006, spending on food stamps doubled. If the current growth rate continues, it will have quadrupled by 2013. Currently 46.6 million people receive benefits from the program, which costs about $80 billion per year.
In the Senate version of the farm bill, approved last summer, lawmakers avoided making cuts to the SNAP program while the version passed by the House Agriculture committee would cut around $16 billion. With the large difference, lawmakers are not likely to compromise unless the savings are needed for a deal necessary to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”
"Odds are against a five-year farm bill in the lame duck (session) unless it's part of a budget agreement," and a budget deal is also unlikely, said Pat Westhoff of the think tank Food and Agricultural Policy Research, based at the University of Missouri. House Republicans have said that they will address the farm bill during the lame duck session which started Tuesday.
According to Democrats, the SNAP program, which provides assistance to about 1 in 7 Americans, should not be reduced. During deliberations before the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, an amendment to restore requirements for food stamp eligibility was defeated. Another amendment which was defeated would have stopped states from receiving federal bonus payments for enrolling people in the food stamp program, according to TheHill.com.
While there is some agreement between the two political parties on the federal crop insurance program, it is a very small percentage of the farm bill costing the government around $7 billion a year. The cost is expected to jump to $15 billion or more this year because the government will shoulder most of the losses due to the 2012 drought, according to Reuters.
While it is clear that House Republicans want to make cuts to SNAP, many Democrats refuse to back legislation that reduces the benefits. One thing that is certain however, is that absent an agreement on SNAP, the farm bill’s passage could be delayed into the new year.
For more information on SNAP eligibility, click here.