Senators vote on $955B Farm Bill

PARKERSBURG – West Virginia senators Monday voted for the 2013 Farm Bill that will protect nutrition programs and invest in businesses and infrastructure in rural communities, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said.

The five-year measure will cost $955 billion with most of the money, about $760 billion, to be spent on the food stamp program. A House version of the bill cut spending on food stamps by around $20 billion.

The Senate voted 66-27 in favor with Rockefeller, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in favor. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted against.

“The farm bill includes important safety net programs so those most in need don’t go hungry. And it goes a long way toward helping to alleviate stressful situations many families face when it comes to finding their next meal,” Rockefeller said. “This is the least we can do to help the most vulnerable. It’s time to get this legislation signed into law.”

The Senate bill strengthens the food stamp program by reducing fraud and abuse, requires participating retailers to stock more nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables and supports projects encouraging physical activity among beneficiaries, Rockefeller said. It also increases assistance for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which supplements the diets of low-income individuals, and provides emergency food and nutrition assistance, he said.

The bill has several flaws, according to Portman.

“I had hoped to vote for this Farm Bill because I think there are some responsible reforms made to farm programs, such as dropping the outdated direct payments program, but more should have been done to trim back this $972 billion bill,” he said. “Unfortunately, despite my efforts to improve the bill by supporting numerous amendments, the Senate refused to end the counter-cyclical payments program which can encourage farmers to base production decisions on federal subsidy levels rather than a crop’s market price. The bill retains the current (United States Department of Agriculture) sugar program which has cost the country 127,000 jobs between 1997 and 2011.”

The bill also failed to scale back the food stamp program, Portman said.

Spending has doubled and enrollment increased by 70 percent under President Obama because of loopholes and changes in asset and income qualifications, Portman said. The program has grown faster than economic conditions would have allowed and the program is 80 percent of the cost of the farm bill, he said.

“It is my hope the House will attempt to address all of these issues and send back a more fiscally responsible bill I can support.”

The House of Representatives may act on its version next week. The House bill cuts the food stamp program by $20 billion over 10 years.

Among other attributes of the Senate bill, according to Rockefeller, it:

* Reauthorizes the Fresh Program, which distributes fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, which encourages direct producer to consumer sales.

* Promotes health for school children by maintaining the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program which gives school districts with a high proportion of low-income students free fruits and vegetables for elementary school students to eat throughout the school day.

* Expands broadband service to rural communities.

* Continues grant and loan programs supporting rural business and entrepreneurship.

* Supports water treatment, distribution and disposal projects in rural communities through grants and loans to public agencies.