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U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (AP)
U.S. Sen. Donnelly hopes for middle ground on food stamp funding debate
Posted on May 22, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 22, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.

Disparate calls to cut food stamp funding in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate farm bill proposals stick out as a big difference in the competing plans.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, just hopes House and Senate lawmakers can find a way to reach middle ground, making sure no child goes hungry along the way.

“I’m willing to work with them and the counter of that, or the other side of that, is they have to be willing to work with us so we can reach a reasonable conclusion on this,” he said Wednesday, May 22, in a teleconference with reporters. The proposed food stamp cut in the House farm bill version, he noted, is “significantly larger” than the Senate plan’s.

There have been rumblings among some to even remove the food stamp program — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — from the farm bill. U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a Republican from Howe, expressed support for such a move late last year, noting that food stamps accounts for perhaps 80 percent of farm bill spending.

Donnelly, though, spoke against such a scenario. Including SNAP in the farm bill helps generate support for the measure among lawmakers from more urbanized areas, allowing passage of those elements that pertain more directly to agriculture and farmers.

“By having nutrition as part of it, it helps to create the kind of coalition you need to pass a bill like the farm bill,” Donnelly said. He questions whether separate bills relating to agriculture and nutrition, each standing alone, could even generate the votes to pass.

The Senate Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, as the farm bill is formally known, passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee last week, with Donnelly’s backing. Now senators are debating amendments to the proposal, as the U.S. House mulls its own version.

The Senate version totals $955 billion over 10 years, a savings of $23 billion, according to the National Farmers Union, a Washington, D.C.-based farmers advocacy group. The House version totals $940 billion over 10 years and would result in $39.7 billion in spending cuts.

As for food stamps, the Senate version would cut SNAP by a total of $4.1 billion while the House proposal would reduce the sum by more than $20 billion, according to the NFU.

The last farm bill passed in 2008 and expired in 2012, though a partial extension was approved last January, according to the U.S. Agriculture Committee website.

Alluding to the significance of the farm bill to Indiana, Donnelly noted that 190,000 Hoosiers work in agriculture. About 83 percent of the land in the state is dedicated to farming and forestry while the sector contributes $38 billion a year to the state economy. Agriculture, too, is big in Elkhart County.