WASHINGTON - Millions of people who get food assistance from the federal government are seeing a cut in their benefits.
On November 1, a temporary benefit from the 2009 stimulus that boosted food stamp dollars expired.
According to the Agriculture Department, that means 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 almost $5 billion next year.
Congress is debating whether to cut the benefits even more. A new farm bill passed by the GOP-controlled House would cut food stamps by an additional $4 billion annually and change eligibility and work requirements.
The Senate version of the farm bill would cut a tenth of that amount.
Farm-state lawmakers have been pushing the farm bill for more than two years, and the conference negotiations represented the opening round in final talks. If the bill is not passed by the end of the year and current farm law is not extended, certain dairy supports would expire that could raise the price of milk. Farmers would start to feel more effects next 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 conference meeting that he was hoping to find common ground on the issue, but House leadership, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have insisted on higher cuts.