THE U.S. Senate and House need to merge two dramatically different versions of a federal farm bill into a single plan supporting farms and feeding hungry families.
The Republican-led House passed a bill recently that supports agriculture but excluded the food-stamp program. One reason to support the bipartisan Senate version passed in June is that it retains as a centerpiece the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that feeds 48 million people.
Republicans also dropped the Emergency Food Assistance Program, as well as others for children, seniors and Native Americans.
Splitting farm policy from food stamps divides two key constituencies working together since the early 1970s when rural members of Congress struck a deal with their urban colleagues to pass a farm bill. Spending on both nutrition programs and farm subsidies has gone up. Both are forms of public assistance, but Republicans are unfairly singling out food stamps for draconian budget cuts.
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The food-stamp program dates back to the end of the Great Depression when Congress created it to help distribute food to hungry families. It became part of the farm bill in the 1970s.
The Senate passed a motion last week to formally send its bill to the House and request a conference to blend both pieces of legislation. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee is ready to name conferees from the Senate side — seven Democrats and five Republicans. Stabenow urged House leaders to do the same.
The food-stamp program is the biggest hurdle. But the Washington delegation will also be fighting to retain Senate-passed amendments by Sen. Maria Cantwell authorizing government purchases of peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans for subsidized school-meal programs and investments in specialty-crops research, such as cherries, apples and potatoes.
Last year’s one-year farm-bill extension expires Sept. 30. Congress should not wait until the last minute to approve a farm bill that supports farmers and hungry families.