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Talks begin 2 days before food stamp cut

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators began talks on Wednesday on crafting a compromise farm bill, including cuts to the food stamp program.

The talks started just two days before food stamp recipients will get a separate, unrelated cut in their monthly benefits.

A temporary benefit, from the 2009 stimulus that boosted food stamp dollars, will expire on Friday.

According to the Agriculture Department, a family of four receiving food stamps will receive $36 less a month. The cuts are expected to reduce the almost $80 billion program by nearly $5 billion next year.

If passed, the farm bill cuts would be on top of that amount. The cost of the program has more than doubled since 2008 as the economy has struggled. Republicans say the program needs to be better targeted to only the neediest people. Legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House would cut food stamps by an additional $4 billion annually and would change eligibility and work requirements.

The Senate farm bill would cut a tenth of that amount, with Democrats and President Obama opposing major cuts.

Farm-state lawmakers have been pushing the farm bill for more than two years. The negotiations represent the opening round in final talks. If the bill is not passed by the end of the year and the farm law is not extended, certain dairy supports would expire that could raise the price of milk. Farmers would start to feel more effects in the spring.

“It took us years to get here, but we are here,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. “Let's not take years to get it done.”

The biggest obstacle to a final bill is how far apart the two parties are on food stamps — officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Lucas said at the talks that he hopes to find common ground on the issue. But House leadership, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have insisted on higher cuts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement as the meeting opened that said food stamp recipients “deserve swift action from Congress to pass a bill that provides the much-needed nutritional support for our children, our seniors, our veterans and our communities.”

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