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Farm bill won't cut $80B annual food stamp program

| Tuesday, June 19, 2012, 10:52 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday began plowing through 73 amendments to a $500 billion bill that would set farm policy and fund the food stamp program over the next five years.

One of its first votes was to reject a proposal to trim food stamp spending.

The farm bill would make major changes to the federal safety net for farmers: replacing their direct payments even when they don't plant crops, putting greater emphasis on crop insurance and establishing a program to protect farmers from revenue losses.

The Senate is expected to vote on all the amendments and pass the bill by the end of the week. The measure then goes to the House, where it could run into resistance from fiscal conservatives.

An early amendment in the Senate dealt with the price of the food stamp program — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which totals $80 billion annually. The program takes up about 80 percent of the bill's spending. Food stamp rolls have doubled over the last eight years to 46 million people, driven by the recession.

The Democratic-led Senate defeated 56-43 a proposal by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have restored strict asset tests for food-stamp eligibility. Households with gross incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty level and liquid assets below $2,000, or $3,250 for households with elderly or disabled people, qualify for food stamps.

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