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Analysis: Farm Bill Touches Food Stamps, Chesapeake Cleanup

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Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper.

An agriculture authorization bill is coming to the Senate floor this week after months of negotiations. The bill could have a number of ramifications for our area, ranging from food stamps to Chesapeake Bay clean up. Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper — joins WAMU All Things Considered host Pat Brogan to discuss the latest.

What would this bill mean for people in our area who receive food stamps?
"The Senate Democrats who put this bill together in consultation with Republicans would reform the Food Stamp program. They would try and eliminate abuses. There have been stories of lottery winners, college students living at home with their parents receiving Food Stamps, and they would cut those abuses. But they don't want to take away those benefits from people in need. In total, we're going to see about a $4 billion cut in the program, but it shouldn't affect people who really need those Food Stamps. There's going to be a different story in the House Farm Bill — House Republicans are expected to cut the program substantially, so that's going to be a fight later this year between Senate Democrats and House Republicans."

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland is concerned that the bill could reduce funding for Chesapeake Bay clean up. How would it do that?
"Cardin has voiced his concerns with the bill. He's in negotiations right now to get his concerns addressed. What the bill would do is consolidate conservation programs. Traditionally, funding for the Chesapeake Bay has come from distinct programs and conservation by line items, and there's been a backlash against earmarks in Congress. So the push in this Ag Bill is to consolidate these conservation programs into one pool of money, and
Cardin is worried that it's uncertain as to what it means for future funding for the Chesapeake Bay. He notes that restrictions on the Bay are high, and that they will be lowered in the future."

There are of course a lot of other issues in play here - especially involving farm subsidies.  When do you expect a vote on the bill?
"This bill is going to be on the floor probably for a couple weeks, because it is a massive bill and there are many amendments that Democrats and Republicans are pushing. For instance, if Cardin cannot get the chairman of the committee — Debbie Stebenow of Michigian — to break the Chesapeake conservation out as a separate program, than he may offer his own amendment on the issue. And there are other Senators with issues as well, who want to protect some of these subsidies that are being cut, so this could take two or three weeks."

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