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Bipartisan Farm Bill deal to cut over $8 billion in food stamps

The Farm Bill conference committee has approved a benefits cut of $8.7 billion for roughly 850,000 households across the country.
People receive free groceries at a food pantry run by the Food Bank For New York City, Dec. 11, 2013. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)
People receive free groceries at a food pantry run by the Food Bank For New York City, Dec. 11, 2013.


On Wednesday morning, the House of Representatives passed the final version of the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes a cut of roughly $8.7 billion to food stamps, affecting 850,000 households across the country. Members of the House and Senate announced the deal on Monday evening, after months of negotiations over the legislation. In a joint statement, the lead negotiators stressed the bipartisan nature of the final bill, which sailed through the House by a margin of 251-166.

"This bill proves that by working across party lines we can reform programs to save taxpayer money while strengthening efforts to grow our economy," said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. The Senate is expected to pass the legislation later in the week.

Households affected by the proposed $8.7 billion cut would lose an average of $90 per month in benefits. This latest reduction comes on top of November's so-called "Hunger Cliff," an automatic $5 billion across-the-board cut to every food stamp recipient's benefits. The Farm Bill cuts would specifically target what critics have referred to as the "Heat and Eat" loophole, which allows certain classes of food stamp users to receive more in benefits.

Some states would be hit more than others. New York City alone could absorb up to 25% of the cuts, spread out across 190,000 households, according to the Food Bank for New York City. The staff of New York Democratc Senator Kirsten Gillibrand confirmed to msnbc that she would not be voting for the legislation.

"Only in Washington could a final bill that doubles the already egregious cuts to hungry families while somehow not creating any additional savings than originally proposed be called progress," she said in a statement. "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."

Despite resistance from some corners of the Democratic Party, the Farm Bill cruised through the House and will likely face very little resistance in the Senate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., both voted in favor of the legislation, along with 87 other Democrats.

"Most Democrats will vote for this," said a spokesperson for Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a critic of the food stamp cuts. McGovern will not vote for the bill.

Some Republicans might defect, but not because food stamps are getting cut. Instead, it is likely that at least a few Republicans will vote "no" because they think the cuts are too small. GOP members in the House had originally proposed $20.5 billion in cuts to the food stamps, followed by a separate bill which separated food stamps out of the Farm Bill and slashed the program by $39 billion. The $39 billion proposal passed the House, but the final version of the Farm Bill keeps food stamps where they are and cuts them by a figure much closer to the $4 billion number proposed in the Senate.

While the majority of House Republicans supported the final version of the Farm Bill, a handful of the party's most conservative members voted against. Tea Party stalwarts such as Texas' Louie Gohmert and Kansas' Tim Huelskamp were among those to reject the $8.7 billion cuts. Florida's Steve Southerland, who championed the House Republicans' original $20.5 billion bid, voted to support the smaller cuts.

The right-wing Club for Growth sent out a statement on Tuesday urging members of Congress to vote against the finalized Farm Bill. One reason for rejecting the bill, according to the statement: food stamps are still included in the Farm Bill.

"At a minimum, these two programs should be voted on as separate, stand-alone bills," said the Club for Growth statement. "True reform would also include implementing a plan to devolve the food stamp program to the states and eventually eliminate federal agricultural subsidies."

President Obama has largely been silent on the subject of food stamp cuts. Though the White House has previously threatened to veto the $20.5 billion cut proposed in the House, Stabenow and House Agriculature Committee Chair Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, have both told the press that they expect the president to sign the bill including $8.7 billion in cuts