USDA's Vilsack warns against 'hatchet' cuts in U.S. food stamps

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:09pm EST

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks about the drought during a press briefing at the White House in Washington July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks about the drought during a press briefing at the White House in Washington July 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers writing the final version of the new U.S. farm bill should reject the "hatchet" cuts that House Republicans want to make to food stamps for the poor, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

Food stamps, which account for the bulk of spending in the $500 billion bill, are the make-or-break issue for the farm bill, which is already more than a year overdue.

"We are not going to be doing $40 billion, or even $20 billion," Vilsack said at the Washington Ideas Forum, listing cuts proposed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At one point, Vilsack said "the House version ... takes a hatchet" to food stamps.

The Democrat-run Senate offered $4.5 billion in cuts over 10 years in its farm bill. The House proposed $39 billion, nearly 10 times the Senate's figure, after conservative Republicans helped defeat a bill that called for $20 billion in savings. The White House has threatened to veto a bill with large cuts.

Farm lobbyists said there was little progress toward a compromise farm bill since the House and Senate formally opened talks on October 30. There was no impetus to resolve disputes such as crop support rates that might become bargaining chips in working out a food stamp agreement, they said.

Work also was handicapped by lack of a budget target, still being negotiated by another select House-Senate panel.

"You can't make deals when you don't know what the number is," said Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the small-farm group National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Overall, the farm bill would save an estimated $23 billion if it follows the outlines of the Senate bill and $55 billion if the House bill is the template, the major difference being the size of food stamp cuts. Both bills would end the $5 billion-a-year "direct payment" subsidy and expand taxpayer subsidized crop insurance by $1 billion a year.

Roughly one in seven Americans receive food stamps to assist in purchasing basic foodstuffs. Enrollment has doubled since 2004 and the cost of the program has nearly tripled.

Republicans such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor say the program is an unaffordable burden while defenders say the high enrollment is a sign of a weak economic recovery.

"People get fixated on the (budget) number when what we should be talking about is policy," said Vilsack.

He said the farm bill should require states to do a better job of helping food stamp recipients find jobs rather than cut off benefits. The House bill would put stricter limits on how long able-bodied adults without children can receive food stamps and end a provision that allows benefits to people with slightly larger assets than the usual cut-off point.

(Reporting by Charles Abbott, editing by G Crosse)

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Comments (1)
PowerOfChoice wrote:
They need to trash the current Farm Bill and separate everything out. This would help reduce both the petty bickering between the far flung different items and also give opportunities to help reduce any fraud. A Farm Bill is supposed to be in place to help farmers when there is an emergency situation and to help insure proper food supply for the citizens of our country. It should not contain SNAP, housing, broadband, fuel subsidies, etc. These items are just pork added over the years for various legislative back scratching. We are 17+ Trillion dollars in debt and if something cannot stand alone, it should be considered garbage and thrown out.

There are redundant items … Why does the Farm Bill also contain Mutual Self Help Housing which should only be under the housing department? In Colorado many citizens now consider this program under the USDA as just another Corrupt and Abusive Federal Program. If they want to cut money from the Farm Bill then please be sure to cut out this now abusive program destroying the lives of citizens who worked hard for 20-30 years only to have $100,000 or more of their equity swiped from each family, not to mention also defrauds the mortgage lenders. Any program that destroys innocent Legally Disabled families needs to be kicked out the door and needs to be investigated for criminal activity. If Vilisack wants to discuss policy … then he needs to explain why he has turned a blind eye and has done nothing when one of his Grantees is illegally obtaining property for a program under his jurisdiction by participating in filing fraudulent documents against other citizen’s property titles and “willfully refusing” to remove when requested and as stated under the law. Should Mr. Vilisack maybe consider that similar fraud in more than one instance by a Grantee then possibly becomes criminal racketeering??? It’s a shame when a program that is supposed to do good is allowed to become corrupt and swipe from others who had PRIOR rights thereby destroying and bankrupting innocent families.

Also, legislators need to STOP grandfathering rural areas. Areas which were considered rural in 1980 have been grandfathered each time this bill comes up by moving the census data date. How large are some of the cities that have been rural since before 1980? Rural items were initially put in place to help very small communities who were not yet “self sufficient” to grow and obtain clean water, sewer, etc., not become a Welfare System for large self sufficient communities who already had their fair share wanting more. Get back to the basics and start saving money … we cannot afford the back scratching garbage any longer!!!

Nov 15, 2013 12:42pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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