House Approves Farm Bill: Food Stamp and Farm Subsidy Cuts, No King Amendment

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After two years of hold-ups the U.S. House of Representatives finally approved a farm bill.

We would say those fine men and women should pat themselves on the back, but it should never have been dragged out this long in the first place.

Anyway, the point is: we've finally made some progress.

The new five-year bill includes cuts to food stamps, caps on farm subsidies, stronger animal protections, and dairy farmer price supports.

It does not have in it the controversial King Act, which would have overruled state agricultural policy including animal welfare standards and genetically modified organism (GMO) restrictions.

See Also: House Blocked Debate, Sought to Limit States' Rights on Animal Welfare in Failed Farm Bill

For several weeks House and Senate representatives worked together on forging the gap on their differences on legislative issues in the bill.

Passed by a vote of 251 to 166, it includes close to $1 trillion in spending on farm subsidies and nutrition programs.

With cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP a.k.a. food stamps), caps on farm subsidies, and cost supports for dairy farmers, it's expected to save around $16.6 billion over the next decade.

According an article published by The New York Times, the bill slashes SNAP by $8 billion resulting in the loss of around $90 a month in benefits for 850,000 households.

The cuts translate to roughly one percent of the $800 million per year program. The House aimed for five percent.

Although earlier attempts to pass a bill were controversial with Republicans urging for deeper cuts in SNAP, while democrats opposed the reductions, the vote on yesterday's bill was mostly bipartisan.

House speaker, John A. Boehner, and the majority leader, Eric Cantor, expressed support for the measure, and urged Republicans to vote in favor of its passage.

Feeding America, a coalition of food banks across the county, claims the cuts will equate to 34 lost meals a months to the households affected.

Even though the measure provides an increase of $200 million to food banks, many assert it may not be enough to offset the anticipated demand.

Contentious farm programs were also slashed. Direct payment, which are paid to farmers regardless of whether they grow crops or not, were eliminated. The controversial subsidy costs around $5 billion per year. As farm earnings soared to record levels, it had become a major political issue.

From the elimination of direct payments, the bill added funds to government-subsidized crop insurance. Of the $9 billion a year program, the government pays 62 percent.

Many criticize the bill for shifting subsidies rather than cutting them completely.

Animal welfare groups support the bill; it includes provisions on dog fighting, making it a federal offense to attend or bring a child under the age of 16 to an animal fighting event.

Although animal fighting is further restricted, amendments pertaining to states' rights to enact their own agricultural policy is loosened in this version of the bill. Previous drafts included a section referred to as the King Amendment -- a.k.a. the Protect Interstate Commerce Act -- which called for uniformity in law across state lines.

Had it been included, only the federal government would have been allowed to set standards for infringed upon states rights to devise their own agricultural laws or to set legal standards for animal welfare, GMO labeling initiatives, regulations agricultural imports like timber, and a number of other state regulations.

With many activists working on grass-roots campaigns for stricter environmental standards and GMO labeling, the amendment would have been a major setback.

Although animal welfare groups would like to see reforms curbing agribusiness subsidies to factory farms, the Humane Society is glad to see some progress in regards to humane treatment of animals.

"Like any large compromise package, the Farm Bill is far from perfect, but it moves the ball forward for animal protection in a very meaningful way," says Michael Markarian, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund. "It brings us one step closer to eradicating dogfighting and cockfighting in the U.S., a day that cannot come soon enough, and it drives a stake in the heart of the radical and overreaching King amendment, which would have turned back the clock on countless measures enacted at the state level concerning animal welfare, food safety, and environmental protection, issues that Americans care deeply about."

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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