McConnell: 'We need to have a Farm Bill' but with changes to food stamps program

12/07/2013 12:26 PM

For the second time in less than five months, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Saturday sought to reassure a ballroom full of Kentucky farmers that a farm bill can still pass Congress. But he said he is hoping negotiators can cap “outrageous” growth in the food stamps program as part of a final measure.

The U.S. Senate passed a farm bill with $4 billion in cuts to the food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the U.S. House approved nearly $40 billion in cuts to the program. McConnell said he hopes negotiators can find common ground sometime in the next “few months.”

“We’ve had a massive, massive increase in food stamps during this administration. I mean massive. It really is outrageous. The administration, itself, has conceded it privately,” McConnell said in his remarks to the several hundred farmers at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Louisville. “And that has made it very challenging to try to figure out how to piece this together.”

McConnell said he wants to see more stipulations on food stamps benefits.

“Just because the food stamps program is appropriate doesn’t mean you should have massive numbers of people receiving it who probably shouldn’t,” McConnell told reporters after his speech. “One of the things the Senate has been resisting is some kind of work requirement.”

Earlier this week, McConnell’s chief Democratic rival Alison Lundergan Grimes slammed McConnell for not coming through on his pledge to see a farm bill passed. McConnell made that pledge in August in front of thousands of officials and farmers at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s ham breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair.

But again, McConnell told farmers on Saturday he would try to get one through.

“Piecing it together I hope will be accomplished in the next few months. We need to have a farm bill. I would rather have a full-time farm bill than an extension, just like you would. And to the extent that I can get us in that position I’m sure going to try to do it,” he said Saturday.

Here’s what he said in his speech and to reporters afterward:

Kentucky farmers also have raised concerns about potential reductions of payouts next year through the tobacco settlement. More than a decade ago, McConnell helped get a settlement agreement through Congress in which tobacco companies would pay money into a trust fund that would dole out payments through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to farmers. The money was to help tobacco farmers, including tens of thousands of them in Kentucky, to help diversify their crops and move away from tobacco.

But the 2014 payments could be cut as a result of across-the-board funding reductions through sequestration.

Jeff Harper, Kentucky Farm Bureau’s director of public affairs, said a potential 7 percent reduction would affect 150,000 Kentuckians and cost them a total of $11 million.

However, McConnell said farmers will see every penny of what they’re scheduled to get because the money isn’t federal tax revenue. The money comes from tobacco companies into the trust fund.

Here’s how Harper and McConnell addressed the issue:


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