Cuts to Food Stamps Are Key in Farm Bill Debate

  • June 19, 2013
  • By Jake Grovum (2)
Gracie Shannon-Sanborn, 5, holds a sign as she joins her father Allen Sanborn, left, and other activists in Los Angeles at a protest against proposed food stamp cuts in the House farm bill. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(UPDATE 6/20/2013: The U.S. House voted Thursday 234-195 to reject its version of the 2013 farm bill. Democrats and Republicans united to defeat it. GOP House leaders will have to revise the bill in order to get it to conference committee with the Senate-passed version.)

The U.S. House and Senate have crafted vastly different farm bills, and a well-known program that helps tens of millions of Americans put food on the table is a prominent sticking point between them.

That program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. And after years of recession-driven spending and enrollment growth, lawmakers in Washington are looking to pare it back.

The question is how much to cut, and how to do it. (See infographic) The House is looking to cut $20.5 billion from the program over the next decade, prompting the Obama administration to issue a veto threat. The Senate would cut $3.9 billion in the next 10 years. Both versions of the farm bill would significantly change the way states administer SNAP.

Even though demand for the program remains high—48 million Americans were enrolled in March—spending on the program is already scheduled to be cut later this year. Any reductions from the farm bill would be in addition to those.

SNAP comprises almost three-fourths of the 10-year cost of the nearly $1 trillion farm bill, a measure that touches on everything from U.S. agriculture and crop insurance to food inspections and trade policy.

As Congress struggles to approve its first farm bill since 2008, here's a closer look at SNAP and what the House and Senate versions might mean for states and the country as whole.

(correction: fixes annual cost to U.S. government with millions to billions)