When President Obama signed the farm bill on Feb. 7, it meant sun and rain for food stamp recipients.
The sunny side is that a $40 billion cut over 10 years proposed by House Republicans was whittled to $8.6 billion. The stormy side is that some 850,000 households, or 4 percent of beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly food stamps), will lose about $90 a month to help pay for groceries.
The wide-ranging law also addresses nutrition programs, conservation, crop subsidies, cockfighting, biofuels, climate change and farmers markets.
Ariel Gonzalez, AARP director of health and family advocacy, says he was glad a deal had been reached on SNAP funding but was disappointed in the cuts. "The vital nutrition benefits SNAP provides, particularly to older Americans, are critical, and we hope Congress will take action to restore them," he says.
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There has been pressure, however, to cut the program and add work requirements for recipients. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, says the doubled cost of SNAP between 2008 and 2012 means the program has "spiraled out of control."
The farm bill also imposes new provisions that restrict efforts to promote food stamps and help people enroll. That could be especially troublesome for older Americans, says Stacy Dean, who specializes in food-assistance policy as a vice president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Only 35 percent of those 65 or older who are eligible for food stamps actually received them, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, far less than the 75 percent of people of all ages who are eligible who get the benefits.
One change included in the farm bill could help older Americans: Nonprofit groups that deliver groceries to homebound people will now be able to accept food stamps as payment.
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