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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Photo: Mark Kurtz
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Photo: Mark Kurtz

Gillibrand wants food stamps, milk price reform in Farm Bill

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Congress is back to work on a new five year Farm Bill. The Senate passed one last year, but the House of Representatives couldn't agree on the size of cuts to the food stamp program and other issues.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says preserving food stamps is "a moral issue." And she says there's a way to pay for them.

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In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Senator Gillibrand said the $4.1 billion the Senate Agriculture Committee proposes to cut from food stamps is "draconian" and squeezes the most vulnerable.

"So I don't know under what world our colleagues think these cuts are acceptable, but tightening our belts around the waists of children and veterans and active duty service members is not how we should be balancing our debt and deficit."

Gillibrand says she would save the $4 billion for food stamps by trimming a different farm bill program – crop insurance. She says as the program is currently set up, the government guarantees too much to insurance companies.

"They are guaranteeing the insurers 14 percent returns. That is extremely generous, and that's why I believe if you reduce that return rate to 12 percent, you would still have a very strong program but you would not have to cut food stamps by $4.1 billion."

The crop insurance program is a replacement for widely criticized farm subsidies, under which some people who weren't farmers at all were reaping huge payouts.

But crop insurance itself is coming under fire as subsidies under a different name. A recent study funded by the Environmental Working Group found that many Midwestern farmers were paid more in insurance payouts due to last year's drought than they would have made if the crops had made it to market.

Gillibrand is also supporting a boatload of other measures for the farm bill that she says would be good for New York, like strengthening insurance for crops like apples, cabbage, and grapes. She also wants better farmer access to credit and the Internet, and more help for local produce and CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture.

And the Democrat says the USDA has to begin holding hearings to overhaul the way farmers are paid for their milk.

"We have to reform the milk program for our dairy farmers. The current program is resulting in thousands of dairy farmers going out of business every year."

In the meantime, Gillibrand supports extending the MILC dairy support system for another nine months.

The full Senate is expected to take up the farm bill next week.

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