MONTPELIER — The farm bill the U.S. Senate passed last week creates a program to protect dairy farmers against dropping milk prices and includes a funding cut that could dent the state’s food stamp program, said Chuck Ross, the Vermont agriculture secretary.
The bill — which has yet to pass the House — emerged amid fears there wouldn’t be a farm bill at all this year, said Ross, or that it would be rushed.
“On balance, I’m pleased we have a farm bill,” he said Tuesday. “I’m pleased we have a farm bill that addresses the dairy situation and maintains conservation programs.”
Milk prices have swung wildly during the last decade, and the farm bill finds a new way to deal with fluctuations.
The legislation creates a new program to help dairy farmers that replaces the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Milk Income Loss Contract, or MILC, program that farmers have relied on for years.
The MILC program compensates dairy farmers when prices fall below a specified level.
“It replaces it with the Dairy Security Act, which offers basically an insurance program for the farmers on their price of milk and is also connected to a stabilization program that will encourage farmers to reduce supply when the supply goes up and pushes the price of milk down,” said Ross.
Ross said the bill also includes a $4.5 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps fund Vermont’s food stamp program, called 3SquaresVT.
“That’s money out of people’s pockets they need to pay for their nutrition,” said Ross. “That is a real cut created in the farm bill, one of the larger cuts.”
That’s also money out of the food economy, said Ross, something that could affect farmers.
David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, said there are fears the cuts to SNAP could get worse as the bill moves through Congress.
“The House is talking about enormous cuts to that program compared to the Senate,” said Carle.
It’s unclear how the funding reduction to SNAP would affect Vermont’s ability to subsidize food for low-income residents, said David Yacavone, the commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
“We’re worried about it, and there were proposals on the House side that were quite significant, but I just don’t know the details of the Senate proposal,” said Yacavone.
The farm bill is rewritten every five years, and the existing one expires Sept. 30.
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