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Harkin to support farm bill nutrition title

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Thursday he will support the farm bill nutrition title that is likely to cut $8 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years, DTN, an Omaha-based satellite farm news service, reported.

Harkin, a former Senate Agriculture Committee chairman but not one of the principal negotiators on this farm bill, said he doesn't particularly like the cuts, “but I think we can live with it,” according to the DTN report.

Support from Harkin, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, is important for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who has proposed the cut but has been criticized by House Republicans for making it too small and by anti-hunger activists for making any cut at all.

Harkin told rural reporters that he and Stabenow had discussed the provision, which centers on the amount states pay in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly called LIHEAP.

Under the rules of the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, participants are allowed to deduct their utility bills from their incomes. But in some states energy expenses are more likely to be included in rent, and in those states food stamp beneficiaries who also get LIHEAP payments can use them to reduce their incomes and trigger higher food stamp benefits. This has led some states to make tiny payments of one dollar per year or less simply to raise food stamp benefits.

“Some states were gaming this LIHEAP thing,” Harkin said.

The Senate farm bill said a state would have to provide a $10 per year payment, but the House said the state trigger should be $20 per year.

In negotiating the conference agreement, Stabenow appears to have gone along with the House on this point, which the Congressional Budget Office says would save more than $8 billion, but has declined to go along with other House provisions that would save $39 billion over 10 years and cause as many as 4 million people to lose their benefits entirely.