SARAH ROBINSON: Food stamps issue looms like lightning rod in farm bill


In recent weeks, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, otherwise known as the farm bill, passed through the House and Senate Agriculture committees with relative ease.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Sen. Thad Cochran have been lauded for their bipartisan cooperation and leadership of the bill, and rightly so.

For a brief moment, it seemed like Congress might pass a major piece of legislation this session and ensure much-needed support for farmers across the U.S.

But once again a storm is swelling, and the threat of a stalemate in conference – should the bill pass both chambers – is very real. The lightning rod in the farm bill is the federal food stamp program.

The number of food stamp recipients has increased sharply during the past five years – not by coincidence at about the same rate as unemployment.

Stabenow said some working American families turned to food stamps when the economy “fell apart” beginning in 2007. She said that whether it is crop insurance or aid to families, the bill is about helping in times of crisis and disaster.

Democrats do acknowledge at least some of food stamp increase is due to abuse and fraud due to changes made to the screening process for applicants. Legislators agree the issue has to be addressed, thus the bill calls for closing loopholes and tightening the screening process to no longer allow the recipient of one federal program to automatically qualify for another.

Both versions of the bill call for cuts to the program, though the level of cuts varies drastically. The Senate bill would shave $4 billion from the program, while the House version cuts more than $20 billion.

The looming problem lies in the power of special interest groups that would rather see the entire bill fail than have it pass with any inclusion of the food stamps program.

Heritage Action for America, the political action arm of conservative think thank Heritage Foundation, has come out in strong opposition to the bill.

The group contends that even the House version of the bill does not go far enough. So it is targeting negative ads at members of the GOP to try to block the legislation, putting Republicans willing to work across party lines in danger during the next election cycle.

Leaders on both sides agree a farm bill cannot go to the president without including food stamps.

Let’s hope Congress won’t let another critical piece of legislation die because we have become too stubborn to work for the greater good. Our nation could not have gotten where it is today had cooler heads not prevailed. Party lines blurred, and common sense applied.

As we continue to watch the effects of sequestration on American taxpayers and federally funded programs, we can only hope the farm bill will fare better.

Contact Sarah Robinson at (662) 678-1598 or sarah.robinson@journalinc.com.

Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal