WASHINGTON (AP) — The huge, five-year farm bill that Congress sent to President Obama on Tuesday sets policy for hundreds of programs, including farm subsidies and food stamps. It would make small cutbacks to both, eliminating some subsidy programs and cutting the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program by $800 million a year, or 1 percent. Conservatives had proposed much higher cuts.
Some questions and answers about the farm bill and its politics:
Q: What is the farm bill?
A: It's a wide-ranging bill, usually written every five years, that sets policy for government farm subsidies and some of the country's nutrition programs, including food stamps. It also sets dollar levels for the Agriculture Department and subsidizes farmers and rural communities for a multitude of things — from protecting environmentally sensitive land to international food aid to rural Internet services.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: Broken down by year, the bill is expected to cost around $96 billion annually.
Q: Where does most of that money go?
A: Almost 80 percent of the money will go to food stamps for the needy — now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It has more than doubled in cost since 2008 due to the economic downturn, fluctuating food prices and eligibility requirements loosened in the 2009 economic stimulus bill. In 2013, an average of 47.6 million people used SNAP at a cost of $79.6 billion. Around 15 percent of the money in the farm bill is designated for farm subsidies and crop insurance subsidies. The rest would go to conservation, rural development, renewable energy and other farm programs.
Q: Where's the support in Congress?
A: The farm bill has always passed with the support of a coalition of rural lawmakers interested in farm programs and urban lawmakers with high numbers of voters in their districts on food stamps. Several decades ago, lawmakers combined nutrition programs with agricultural supports in the farm bill to gain those urban votes. The number of rural lawmakers has dwindled in recent years, though, and the escalating cost of food stamps threatened the bill this time around as conservatives say the SNAP program has spiraled out of control and needs to be cut.
Q: How did they decide on a cut of $800 million a year?
A: It was a compromise between the Senate bill, which would have cut $400 million a year, and the House bill, which would have cut $4 billion a year. The White House had threatened to veto the House bill, and Senate Democrats made it clear they would not go much higher. The money would come from ending the practice in some states of giving recipients a minimal amount of heating assistance in order to trigger higher food stamp benefits. Some critics see that as an abuse of the system.