WASHINGTON – Cuts to food stamps, continued subsidies to farmers and victories for animal rights advocates. The massive, five-year farm bill heading toward final passage this week has broad implications for just about every American, from the foods we eat to what we pay for them.
Support for farmers through the subsidies included in the legislation helps determine the price of food and what is available. And money for food stamps helps the neediest Americans who might otherwise go hungry.
The legislation could reach President Barack Obama this week. The House already has passed the bipartisan measure and the Senate was scheduled to pass the bill Tuesday after the chamber voted to move forward on the legislation Monday evening.
Five things you should know about the farm bill:
WHERE THE MONEY GOES:
Most of the bill's almost $100 billion-a-year price tag goes to the nation's food stamp program, now known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. One in seven Americans, or about 47 million people, participates in the program. The legislation cuts food stamps by about $800 million, or 1 percent, by cracking down on states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don't need. Much of the rest of the money goes to farm subsidies and programs to protect environmentally sensitive lands.
Farmers will continue to receive generous federal subsidies that help them stay in business in an unpredictable environment, but through revamped programs. The bill eliminates a fixed $4.5 billion-a-year subsidy called direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. New subsidies would require farmers to incur losses before they could collect from the federal government. The bill would also overhaul dairy and cotton subsidies and transition them into similar insurance-style programs. Most farmers would pick between a program that would pay out when revenue dips or another that pays out when prices drop.
The legislation would also spend about $570 million more a year on crop insurance, which, on top of subsidies, protects farmers in the event of major losses.
CRACKDOWN ON FOOD STAMP FRAUD:
The Agriculture Department has been aggressively tackling food stamp fraud in recent years and the final farm bill will add to that. It would step up efforts to reduce fraud by retailers who sell food stamps, track SNAP trafficking and ensure that people who have died do not receive benefits. The bill would also prohibit lottery winners and convicted murderers and sex offenders from receiving food stamps.
HEMP LAWS RELAXED:
The bill would allow farmers to grow hemp, marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin, in 10 states as research projects. Those states already allow the growing of hemp, though federal drug law has blocked actual cultivation in most.
Hemp is often used in rope but has also been used to make clothing, mulch, foods, creams, soaps and lotions.
VICTORY FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS GROUPS:
The No. 1 farm bill priority for animal rights groups was to defeat a House provision that would have blocked an upcoming California law requiring all eggs sold in the state to come from hens that live in larger cages. Livestock groups have fought the state law, which will be a major burden for egg producers in other states who use smaller cages and still want to sell eggs to the lucrative California market. The animal rights groups won, and the provision blocking the California law didn't make it into the final bill.
The animal rights groups also won language that will make it a federal crime to attend an animal fighting event or bring a child to one.
Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mcjalonick'