Farm Bill a Boon to Agriculture, a Bust for Food Stamps

Assistance Program Slashed by $8.7 Billion; 1,500 Santa Barbara Homes Affected

Following three years of legislative wrangling, President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill on Friday that expands crop insurance and funds agriculture research over the next decade. Though many lawmakers are celebrating the bipartisan victory, the bill also cuts $8.7 billion from the national food stamps program. Despite the hit, this measure’s cuts to food assistance benefits is only a fraction of the $40 billion reduction many House Republicans called for last fall.

Santa Barbara County officials expect 1,500 area households (or 3,300 individuals) will see a decrease in monthly benefits. The exact reduction is still unclear.

Last November, all 17,000 households (30,000 individuals) on food stamps in the county — 60 percent are children — received $18 less each month because the 2008 federal stimulus package ended. The average Santa Barbara household receives $306 per month in benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates these cuts will affect four percent of Americans who receive food assistance benefits, but will not kick anyone off the program entirely.

“Anytime that any of these safety net programs are cut, it affects people in a very real way. It not only affects the people who receive [food stamps], but it affects money that could be going into our local economy,” said Davida Willis from the county’s Social Services Department. She added that a cut of this magnitude would be too difficult for charities or churches to pick up the slack. The state could step in to fund the difference, she said, but it is too soon to tell.

But the good news is for the agriculture sector, which makes up about 20 percent of the $956 billion bill. Congresswoman Lois Capps — who represents all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and parts of Ventura County — pushed for the measure, calling it a win for Central Coast farmers and the economy. “The bill includes strong funding for numerous vital programs I championed for local farmers, including Specialty Crop Block Grants, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, pest control, and the Market Access Program,” she said in a statement.

“[I] remain incredibly concerned about the cuts to SNAP,” she went on. “[Eight] billion dollars of reductions over 10 years will have a real impact on the day-to-day experiences of those depending on SNAP, especially low-income children and seniors on fixed incomes. I hope that Congress can come together to find solutions to this issue and restore these cuts in the near future.”

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