CHN: Without a Doubt, Farm Bill Becomes Law
All fifteen titles of the farm bill are now law. Congress intended to enact the whole bill last month, including long-overdue improvements for the Food Stamp Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program. But due to a clerical mistake the bill was sent to the President’s desk one title short. It was not until after the President had vetoed the bill and the House had successfully voted to override the President’s veto that it was discovered that the bill was incomplete. The Senate also voted to override the President’s veto.
To ensure that the proper procedures were followed, Congressional leaders scheduled votes on the complete Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, H.R. 6124. Before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess the House passed the new bill, 306-110. The week the Senate returned from recess, on June 5, it passed the bill by a vote of 77-15. On June 18, as expected, the President vetoed the bill. That same day both the House and Senate overrode the President’s veto by votes of 317-109 and 80-14, respectively, leaving no doubt that the farm bill was now law in its entirety.
The farm bill, which is now Public Law 110-246, has a $289 billion price tag, of which more than $10 billion is for increases for domestic nutrition programs over ten years. Of the $10 billion:
- $7.8 billion is for The Food Stamps program, which has been renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
- $1.26 billion is additional funding for the 2008 to 2017 period for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which purchases food for the emergency feeding organizations; and
- $1 billion is for the free Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Programs targeted to schools with large shares of low-income families over the 2009 to 2017 period.
The farm bill makes numerous important improvements to the Food Stamps program. For starters, it raises the minimum food stamp benefit individuals can receive for the first time in 30 years and indexes it for inflation. The $10 a month minimum benefit level will increase to about $14 in October of this year, with adjustments for inflation in later years. As a result, approximately 78,000 people, mainly seniors and people with disabilities, will receive a higher minimum benefit. The standard deduction for food stamps, frozen since 1995, will also be raised from $134 to $144 and indexed for inflation. Retirement accounts and education accounts would no longer be counted when determining a household’s eligibility for food stamps, and the cap on the dependent care deduction would be eliminated, allowing families to deduct the full amount of dependent care costs they incur. It is estimated that this change will provide an average of $500 a year to about 100,000 working households that pay high child care costs.
Other changes to the food stamp program include:
- Indexing the current $2,000 and $3,000 asset limits for inflation;
- Giving states the option to allow households to apply for food stamps over the phone; and
- Phasing out the food stamp coupons.
All of the food stamp provisions will go into effect October 1, 2008.
For a more detailed summary of the food stamp provisions enacted through H.R. 6124, see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities paper, “Food Stamp Provisions of the Final 2008 Farm Bill” at: http://www.cbpp.org/5-23-08fa.htm.