Richer farmers get bigger subsidies in immediate snub to Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for action on inequality
Congress has agreed to cut $8.6bn from the federal food stamp program while increasing government subsidies for richer farmers, dealing a swift rebuke to Barack Obama’s call for a year of action on economic inequality.
Within hours of the president’s State of the Union speech, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to adopt the measures as part of a wide-ranging farm bill that passed by 251 to 166 votes and has already been endorsed by the Senate’s Democratic leadership.
The cuts to federal food stamps come on top of a $5bn cut in November and will reduce payments to 1.7 million of the poorest Americans by an estimated $90 a month.
Republicans had sought even higher cuts but a two-year tussle with Democrats was brought to an end after a compromise was agreed that also included increasing a cap for the maximum subsidy payments that can be awarded to individual farmers from $50,000 to $125,000.
The measures will also add $5.7bn to the cost of a 50% subsidy on premiums for crop insurance and extend a loophole allowing multiple people to claim government subsidies for one farm.
Though helping many poorer farmers too, critics of the bill claimed it disproportionately benefited those with large farms, including several dozen unnamed landowners who are thought to receive more than $1m a year in total support.
“This bill will do great damage to the nation’s most vulnerable while it goes out of its way to reopen loopholes for millionaires and billionaires,” said Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.
“Seniors will have to choose between food and warmth,” she added before the vote on Wednesday morning. “These are our own people and if you vote for this bill you will have to look them in the eye.”
Other Democrats said the $956bn farm bill was an improvement on original Republican demands for a $40bn cut in food stamps. At least 89 Democrats voted in favour of the final bill proposed by a bipartisan conference committee representng both Senate and House.
“This bill is miles ahead of where we started, but it still leaves too many families behind. We should be doing more not less,” said Joe Crowley of New York.
“The fact that an $8bn cut in food stamps is considered a compromise just shows how unreasonable the original demands were. What have we come to when we arguing about how much of a cut to hungry children is reasonable?”
Tim Walz of Minnesota added: “Of course it’s not perfect. If you want perfect, you will get that in heaven and this Congress is closer to hell, but I am proud of this compromise.”
Republicans said it was vital for America’s farmers that the bill was passed and pointed to an increase in assistance to food banks and reforms to how food stamps were granted as important benefits of the legislation.
“The agriculture committee has got some of the most conservative members and some of the most liberal members and it is important that we found a way to get this passed,” said Austin Scott of Georgia.