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House OKs splitting farm policy, food stamps

The U.S. House on Thursday narrowly approved removing food aid to low-income people from the farm bill.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted 216-208 in favor of the separation, which has been advocated by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, but has next to no chance of being endorsed by the Democratic Senate or President Barack Obama.

“Farm policy and food-stamp policy should not be mixed. They should stand on their own merits,” Stutzman, a LaGrange County corn and soybean farmer, said in a floor speech broadcast by C-SPAN.

In June, Stutzman offered amendments to split food stamps from the original 5-year farm bill, but his proposals were rejected by the House Rules Committee. The House later voted down the farm bill 234-195 as Stutzman and 61 other Republicans opposed the legislation.

At the time, many Republicans said the food-stamp reductions were far too small, while Democrats complained they were much too large.

The government spent $80 billion on food stamps – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – in fiscal 2012. The original House bill would have cut SNAP spending by $2 billion a year, while the version passed by the Senate would reduce the amount by $400 million a year.

Both bills also would eliminate direct payments the government makes to farmers to cover drops in crop prices and yields, replacing them with federally subsidized insurance programs.

More than 500 organizations opposed splitting farm stamps from food policy, including Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Farmers Union, Indiana Health Industry Forum and Red Gold Inc., a Madison County-based tomato processing company.

The National Corn Growers Association reluctantly supported passage of Thursday’s House bill as a means to advance farm policy legislation to negotiations by a House-Senate conference committee.

“However, our action in no way reflects our approval of its contents or the manner in which it came to the floor,” association President Pam Johnson said in a statement.

She also said: “We do not believe that the link between farm programs and nutrition programs should be severed. We see benefits beyond the political in keeping the ties between those who produce food and those who need it.”

During his floor comments, Stutzman said the revised farm bill would be “the first farm-only farm bill in 40 years.”

“Because of policy dating back to the Carter administration, 80 percent of the last trillion-dollar farm bill went to food stamps. I don’t believe that’s right. And as I farmer, I can tell you that doesn’t serve farmers well,” Stutzman said. “And believe it or not, it doesn’t serve the needs of those who need help in this country, either.”