Just days after the House passed a 939-page Farm Bill, the Senate yesterday approved the Bill in a 68-32 vote. Now the $956 billion Bill heads to President Obama for approval. He will sign the Bill on Friday, ending months of tension surrounding the most contentious Farm Bill in history.
The Senate vote comes after nearly two years of delays due to political disagreements regarding the direction of farm and food policy in the coming years. The main hurdle for the Bill's passage was cuts to the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. In the final Bill, the SNAP program will lose $8 billion in funding over ten years, a compromise between House Republicans' initial proposal of $40 billion in cuts and Senate Democrats' counter of $4 billion. According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, the changes will reduce benefits for about 850,000 houses nationwide. The Bill did expand a pilot program that allows food stamp recipients to get discounts when they shop at farmer's markets, though it doesn't address the issue of food access.
Additionally, direct payments are eliminated from this Farm Bill. Those payments were a type of crop subsidy awarded to farmers whether they grew crops or not; in exchange for the cuts, the government is making crop insurance cheaper for farmers. Eliminating that program will cut $5 billion in funding over ten years.
There are a few components of the Bill that might impact how you shop and eat. For example, Country of Origin Labeling regulations require that many animal products now contain information about where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. This Bill also expanded subsidy incentives to include sushi rice (in addition to wheat, soy, and corn), so we may see more of that product on the market in the future.
This has been one of the most bitterly political Farm Bill passages in the history of the piece of legislation. Historically, the Farm Bill has been considered rather dry and uninteresting, and usually receives little media coverage. But the prolonged political debates surrounding this Bill —and the substantial cuts to SNAP that House Republicans pushed early on— made headlines for months. As with any compromise in the legislative process, plenty of agricultural interests on both sides are disappointed with the final Bill. But we can now move forward in food policy with conservation programs fully funded, progress in some areas of food safety and labeling regulation, and the hope that future Bills will pass before they're two years overdue.
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