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Congress passes $8.7 billion food stamp cut

The Senate gave the 2014 Farm Bill bill final bipartisan approval on Tuesday, after the House passed it last week.
Brooklyn residents receive free food as part of a Bowery Mission outreach program on December 5, 2013.
Brooklyn residents receive free food as part of a Bowery Mission outreach program on December 5, 2013.


It's official: 850,000 households across the country are set to lose an average of $90 per month in food stamp benefits.

The Senate on Tuesday voted 68-32 to send the 2014 Farm Bill -- which includes an $8.7 billion cut to food stamps -- to President Obama's desk. Nine Democrats opposed the bill, and 46 members of the Democratic caucus voted for it, joining 22 Republicans.

The House passed the law by a similarly commanding margin last Wednesday. After the House vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney made clear that the president would sign off on the legislation.

"We are pleased by the progress that we've seen," Carney said last week. "As you know, the president made clear last fall that this was something that he believed Congress needed to and could act in a bipartisan way to get done. Obviously we're not there yet. Final legislation has not reached his desk. So we await that happening and hope it does. If the bill, as it is currently designed, reaches his desk, he would sign it."

In a statement released shortly after the Senate approved the law, President Obama applauded the "strong bipartisan vote."

"As with any compromise, the Farm Bill isn't perfect -- but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America's food, but for our nation," he said.

Members of the House had previously proposed a cut of either $20.5 billion or $39 billion to food stamps. Obama threatened to veto both of those proposals, but he has been silent regarding the impending $8.7 billion cut.

Only 15 states, plus Washington, D.C., will be affected by that cut, which targets a specific state-level policy sometimes used to calculate food stamp benefits. Up to 30% of the cuts could come out of New York state alone. New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand voted against the bill Tuesday.

“This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts," she said in a statement last week.

Republicans have insisted that the food stamp cuts were at best a step in the right direction. The conservative Club for Growth sent out a statement last Tuesday advising members of Congress to vote against the bill in part because it included language on food stamps at all.

“True reform would also include implementing a plan to devolve the food stamp program to the states and eventually eliminate federal agricultural subsidies," the statement said.

But most senators, on both sides of the aisle, hailed the farm bill's $8.7 billion cut as a significant, albeit imperfect, achievement. During Monday's floor debate over cloture, North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven said the compromise "really is fair to both sides." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he looked forward to "a strong bipartisan vote on cloture tonight and the passage of the bill tomorrow."

"It cuts the [food stamp] program far more than I would have cut it ... but it's time that we move forward," said Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell during a floor speech Tuesday.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Hoeven as a Democrat.