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Congressional negotiators announced on Monday that they’d reached a deal on a farm bill that saves $24 billion over the next decade and includes an $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – the program responsible for providing food stamps to millions of Americans nationwide.

“Today’s bipartisan agreement puts us on the verge of enacting a five-year farm bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety net, and helps farmers and businesses create jobs,” head of the Senate Agriculture Committee Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said.

Over the summer, tensions mounted as the Democratic-controlled Senate passed legislation that would have cut the food stamp program by $4.1 billion over 10 years, while the GOP-controlled House introduced a nearly-five-times-greater $20 billion cut over the same time period.

The House is expected to vote on and advance the bipartisan deal, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calling the bill a “step in the right direction.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill’s new provisions “will reduce the deficit and cut waste and fraud, all while protecting hungry children and families.” He and others also say that the new energy-assistance provision finally closes a SNAP loophole Congress never intended for – one that some argue increases welfare fraud. 

The proposed bill raises the amount to qualify for additional SNAP benefits from $1 in federal heating assistance to a minimum of $20, closing what has been called the “Heat and Eat” loophole. This will cut benefits for approximately 850,000 households by an average of $90 a month.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill sometime next week, but Democrats seem more split over their support for the compromise.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and a member of the farm bill conference committee, says the Senate needs to “concentrate” on passing the “sound, balanced, bipartisan bill.”

Some of his colleagues, however, feel that the yearly $800 million food stamp cuts are just too steep. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) blasted the cuts and accused the negotiators of “trying to ram this thing through before anyone has a chance to read it.”

The bill also includes $200 million in funding for 10 states to begin job-training pilot programs and an additional $205 million in increased assistance for food banks.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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