Fifteen percent of Americans received federal food stamp benefits in the 2013 fiscal year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released in early January.
In the Harvest Public Media network, that includes about 936,000 people in Missouri; 420,000 in Iowa; 2 million in Illinois; 179,000 in Nebraska, 507,000 in Colorado, 316,000 in Kansas; and 926,000 in Indiana.
Both the House and Senate have proposed billions in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is often referred to as “food stamps” and is the most expensive piece of the farm bill. But while the Senate wants to cut $4 billion in funds in its version of the farm bill, the House wants to cut $40 billion. That's why it also remains the most controversial issue for negotiators working on a new farm bill.
“We have the proposal on the House side to make much, much larger cuts, and a lot of people on the Republican side, in particular in the House, see this as a very, very important test of whether or not the overall farm bill is going to meet their definition of what’s an acceptable reform,” said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. “Working this out in a way that will get a majority of support in both the House and the Senate, with a presidential signature, has proven to be very difficult and one of the many reasons why the farm bill hasn’t crossed the finish line yet.”
Whatever the final food stamp program deal is, it will affect a lot of people. The USDA said in its report that more than 47 million Americans benefited from the program in the last fiscal year. That’s up from about 33 million five years ago. Westhoff said that the number of recipients has been a point of controversy in itself.
“People who think that we have too many people in the program today want to do things to restrict the number of beneficiaries. Others are concerned that given the tough economic times, we don’t want to do things that would reduce food availability to Americans,” Westhoff said.
Other hotly debated farm bill issues include new country-of-origin labeling rules on meat, which farmers are eligible to get government payments, and a program that helps dairy farmers when milk prices get too low.
The farm bill expired in October and lawmakers have been crafting a new bill for months.