In early January 2014, hopefully before the price of milk soars to $7 a gallon, Congress might pass a new Farm Bill, but only if Republicans and Democrats can agree on how much to cut food stamp (SNAP) benefits. Of course, that's about a $35 billion "if."
Largely ignored by Congress last year along with immigration reform and postal service reform bills, the Farm Bill authorizes funding for most elements of the national farm safety net, as well as most food and nutrition programs, such as food stamps and school meal programs.
Also See: When the Last American Farmer Dies
Food stamp benefits, already cut by about $5 billion in November 2013, will be cut again, no matter which of the two competing farm bills finally makes it through the legislative process to President Obama's desk.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress support cutting food stamp benefits, but are far apart in agreeing on the size of those cuts. President Obama has stated his opposition to any "major" changes to the food stamp program.
Republican's Bill: $40 Billion in Cuts
In the House of Representatives, the Republican majority has succeeded in passing a version of a Farm Bill that would cut $40 billion from food stamp benefits over the next 10 years, mainly through stricter eligibility requirements potentially disqualifying as many as 4 million recipients.
The House bill would eliminate existing food stamp eligibility waivers that allow healthy adults without dependents to receive benefits indefinitely, and would allow the states to make having a job a requirement for getting food stamps.
Democrat's Bill: $4.5 Billion in Cuts
Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Senate has passed a Farm Bill calling for $4.5 billion in cuts in food stamp benefits.
While cutting food stamp benefits, the Senate bill would increase spending for the federal farm safety net with a 10% expansion of the crop insurance program and a boost in commodity crop support rates.
Possible Compromise: $8 Billion in Cuts
Clearly, between the two farm bills, House and Senate negotiators have some compromising to do. That compromising will be done by a 41-member select reconciliation committee chaired by Iowa's Democratic Senator Tom Harkin.
On December 19, Sen. Harking was cited by Reuters as stating a compromise farm bill would likely end up cutting food stamp benefits by about $8 billion over 10 years, a figure that will require some major concessions by Republicans.
According to Harkin, the compromise bill would generate a majority of the $8 billion in savings by closing loopholes in the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that automatically award food stamp benefits to certain low-income families getting government assistance in paying their utility bills.
In January 2013, Congress extended the existing 2008 Farm Bill for nine months. Congressional leaders of both parties now agree that a further extension is not acceptable. A new Farm Bill is needed.