WASHINGTON - Arizona farmers are cautiously optimistic about the Senate's passage this week of a five-year farm bill, even though it cuts $24 billion from current spending levels.
Arizona Farm Bureau President Kevin Rogers said that while there was "a lot of give and take" on the bill, the important thing is that passage would give farmers some guarantees going forward.
"If there's a major drought or major disaster, they'll know that insurance products will be there to help them get through the tough times," Rogers said.
Low-income advocates were not as pleased, however, with the Senate's 66-27 vote on Monday to pass the bill. It cuts $4 billion from food-stamp funding over the next 10 years, a key part of the legislation.
The 1,152-page bill would set spending at about $100 billion a year for the next 10 years, according to published reports. In addition to farm programs, the bill contains funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP, or food stamps - which make up the largest part of spending in the measure.
Angela Schultz, a spokeswoman for Arizona Community Action Association, said that Arizona hunger rankings are already high: One in five people and one in four children in the state struggle with hunger. Cuts to SNAP will not help those low-income families, she said.
She noted that SNAP participants, on average, receive benefits for just nine months, helping them get through times of crisis.
"It's estimated that 500,000 households (in the U.S.) a year will lose $90 a month of SNAP benefits," Schultz said of the Senate version of the bill.
The measure could face deeper cuts in the House, where its future is uncertain. After the Senate passed a farm bill last year, the House never voted on it. That led to a one-year extension of the previous farm bill, which expired in 2012. The Arizona Farm Bureau wants to guarantee that there's a crop insurance program available for all farmers in the final legislation, and that no means-testing is enacted to cap farmers who make more money than others, said its government-relations manager, Ana Kennedy.
Rogers said crop-insurance subsidies have changed in the past 15 years: Where farmers once received direct payments to produce what the public and market wanted, they now grow crops based on what products have insurance. He predicts that there will continue to be a move away from direct subsidies.