WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats fell short in efforts Wednesday to block cuts to the food stamp program as the House Agriculture Committee moved ahead on a half-trillion-dollar bill to fund farm and nutrition programs over the next five years.
The program that helps feed 46 million people at a cost of near $80 billion a year was the dominant issue as committee members tried to advance one of the larger and more expensive bills that Congress is taking up this year. Democrats insisted any cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would result in people going hungry. Republicans said they were merely trying to bring efficiency to a program to ensure anyone who is qualified for food benefits will receive them.
The committee's draft measure would save $3.5 billion a year from current spending levels through such steps as ending the practice of direct payments for nonactive farmers and consolidating conservation programs. Of that, $1.6 billion in savings would come from tightening eligibility rules and ending abuses in the food stamp.
The Senate version of the farm bill passed last month on a bipartisan vote would save about $2.3 billion a year, with $400 million coming from the food stamp program.
The House and Senate must reach a compromise before the current farm bill expires at the end of September.