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posted: 2/2/2014 6:03 AM

Farm bill details: Costs, cuts, labeling

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  • There are goodies scattered through the farm bill for members from all regions of the country: a boost in money for crop insurance popular in the Midwest; higher cotton and rice subsidies for Southern farmers; renewal of federal land payments for Western states.

      There are goodies scattered through the farm bill for members from all regions of the country: a boost in money for crop insurance popular in the Midwest; higher cotton and rice subsidies for Southern farmers; renewal of federal land payments for Western states.
    Associated Press

 
The Washington Post

House lawmakers approved a new five-year farm bill this week that would make significant changes to the nation's farm support programs but also cut billions in food stamp aid.

The measure passed 251 to 166, amid opposition from liberals who said the food stamp cuts went too far and from conservatives who said the legislation failed to further curtail government spending.

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The Senate is expected to vote by Friday and send the measure on for President Barack Obama's signature -- more than two years behind schedule.

Here's a look at some of the details of the 939-page agreement:

How much will the farm bill cost? And how much in federal spending will be cut?

The cost of the Agricultural Act of 2014 is $956.4 billion, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

The measure is expected to reduce federal spending by $16.6 billion over the next decade, according to the CBO. Supporters of the bill argue that it saves closer to $23 billion, according to budgeting that existed when the last farm bill passed in 2008 and before automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect.

The measure would slash billions from farm programs, including an end to direct payments to farmers -- money that often went to farmers who don't actually farm. Obama and fiscal conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have been after this program for years.

The agreement also includes about $6 billion in savings by merging 23 conservation programs into 13. It's a move supported by conservation groups nationwide, according to House and Senate aides.

Finally, the bill would cut about $8 billion in the federal food stamp program.

How were the food stamp cuts made?

Negotiators found a way to cut about $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, over the next decade.

Most of the savings would come from tweaks to the federal "heat and eat" benefits that House and Senate aides say have been exploited in recent years by several states and the District of Columbia to boost the amount of money some people receive from SNAP.

The changes would require the states and the District of Columbia to pay more in "heat and eat" money, a move that will reduce SNAP payments by about $90 monthly for about 850,000 households.

The bill would also prohibit the Agriculture Department from spending money on television, radio and billboard ads to promote the program and on efforts designed to recruit beneficiaries. And USDA would need to ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dead cannot receive food stamps and that people cannot collect benefits in multiple states.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL for short)

Where does your food come from? It's a long-running battle among the USDA, the World Trade Organization, livestock producers and consumer advocacy groups.

Page 881 of the farm bill outlines "Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-Raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng and Macadamia Nuts."

The new bill didn't do anything to reverse new "country of origin labeling" rules established by the Obama administration last year. The rules require labels explaining where a meat product was born, raised and slaughtered. The labels are favored by the "farm-to-fork" community and other consumer groups.

But the livestock industry -- especially meatpacking companies such as Tyson Foods -- have challenged the new rules in federal court. They argue that the new rules are too burdensome and could upset trade relations with Canada, Mexico and other countries.

Industrial hemp

For the first time, the farm bill would authorize colleges and universities to grow industrial hemp for research purposes in states that permit growth and cultivation of the plant. Currently, 11 states have such laws: Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Aides noted that the new hemp-themed provisions are among hundreds of policy and spending details buried in the legislation, but the decision is likely to contribute to a growing national debate about the legalization of marijuana both for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Just what is "industrial hemp"?

Industrial hemp uses just trace amounts of the chemical that gives marijuana users a high. The bill requires that the hemp contain no more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, by weight.

Halal and kosher foods

"As soon as practicable," the USDA has been instructed to "increase the purchase" of halal and kosher foods to be added to the department's emergency food assistance program that helps replenish the supply of food at soup kitchens, food banks and shelters.

In the battle of Sheep vs. Trey Radel, the sheep win

This really has been a bad week for now-former Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla. Not only did he resign from Congress on Monday, but a federal institution he fought to kill -- the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center -- is set to live on. As The Washington Post's David A. Fahrenthold pointed out a few weeks back, the center gives grants to sheep researchers, sheep rancher associations and young shearers in training. This past summer, Radel stood up before the House to argue that, at a cost of $1 million or more, it was too expensive to keep.

The farm bill includes $1.5 million in funding for it.

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