House passes farm bill, food stamp program cut by 1 percent
BOZEMAN, Mont. - A compromise version of the Farm Bill has cleared the house and is on it's way to the U.S Senate. The five year, $956 billion Farm Bill passed easily by a 251 to 166 margin. But a majority of democrats opposed it, with 103 voting against it. The legislation was more than a year in the making, as negotiators struggled to overcome differences. The bill ends direct subsidies to farmers, opting instead for a loss-based insurance program. It doesn't include government imposed production limits for milk producers, but it does maintain strict labeling about the origin of beef.' Food assistance makes up about three-quarters of the bill's spending, and closes a loophole that allows some people to artificially qualify for food assistance. Volunteers at Bozeman's Community Cafe said they worry the cuts will hurt low income families. The food stamp cuts in the Farm Bill aren't as large as originally suggested in the House, and it protects millions of Americans from losing their food stamps, but a cafe volunteer explained many folks who eat there already have trouble making ends meet with the food stamps they have now. The Bozeman Community Cafe is a place where anyone can come to enjoy a free hot meal. "There's regular workers, people who just come here for the camaraderie and for the fact that if they have to choose between rent and food, here they can get their food," explained volunteer Sarah Barutha. Barutha explained many of the patrons are low income families, who use food stamps to help make ends meet. "Many people are one paycheck away from having to use a place like this," Barutha said. She's worried about the food stamp cuts in the house-passed farm bill. It ultimately would cut $800 million a year from the $80 billion a year food stamp program or around 1 percent down from the 5 percent originally proposed. Some Democrats who voted against it said the cuts are still too high, and Barutha said any assistance helps the people in need. "I'd say there's going to be increased families using this because their food stamps aren't going to get them through the entire month," Barutha said. The legislation requires households to receive at least $20 per year in home heating assistance before they automatically qualify for food stamps, instead of the $1 required in some states. This is to crack down on some states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don't need, creating a loophole. Barutha at the Community Cafe explained the people she meets who eat at the cafe and use food stamps really need them. "As in any government program, there's going to be some abuses," she said, "but most of the people who have it wouldn't be able to put food on the table without it." The Senate now takes up the bill, where it must pass before President Obama can sign it into law.