The difference between the U.S. Senate and House cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be at the center of potential debate between the two when it comes to passing the 2013 farm bill-a bundle of federal legislation relating to agriculture, nutrition and conservation, among others.
The nearly 1,200-page Senate version of the bill, which passed Monday night, cuts about $4 billion of SNAP over the course of 10 years. The House version of the bill eliminates SNAP by $20 billion over the same amount of time.
Rod Snyder, public policy director for the National Corn Growers Association, said the issue is a difficult one. Should the bills go to a conference committee, the conversation could be divided largely by philosophy, Snyder said.
"You have a pretty big difference between the way the House and Senate are looking at this issue," Snyder said. "(Funding differences) could hold up a final agreement between the House and the Senate on the farm bill."
It is not known at this time how either bill would affect SNAP in West Virginia, according to Dawn Hawkins, SNAP policy specialist with the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources. It depends on which version of the bill gets passed, Hawkins said.
"The Farm Bill will be effective Oct. 1," Hawkins said. "Whatever comes of the Farm Bill, we have a certain amount of time that has not been determined yet from our federal partners to implement that."
SNAP, formerly food stamps, are given to families and individuals below a certain income in order to provide them with assistance in purchasing food.
In April, there were 15,758 individuals receiving SNAP benefits in Berkeley County, the highest recipient out of the three counties of the Eastern Panhandle. Jefferson County had 6,850 recipients during the same month., while Morgan County had 2,968.
About 337,149 people received SNAP benefits statewide in April, Hawkins said, which amounted to $40,929,740 of federal funding.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., issued a statement Monday evening supporting the Senate version of the bill and urging its passage.
"Nutrition assistance programs are a lifeline for West Virginia's children and families," Rockefeller said. "The farm bill includes important safety net programs so those most in need don't go hungry. And it goes a long way toward helping to alleviate stressful situations many families face when it comes to finding their next meal. This is the least we can do to help the most vulnerable. It's time to get this legislation signed into law."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was unable to attend Monday evening's vote, as he was watching his granddaughter give her high school's commencement speech, according to a statement obtained from his staff.
"Senate passage of the bill was widely anticipated with bipartisan support, and I confirmed with Majority Leader Reid that my absence would not affect the outcome of the vote," Manchin said in the statement.
Manchin went on to praise the bill's passage of 66 to 27 votes, but said it is just a start to reigning in "bloated agriculture giveaways."
"It is also encouraging that the Senate Farm Bill takes a commonsense approach to strengthening the integrity and accountability of federal nutrition programs, like SNAP, while also cracking down on fraud and abuse," Manchin said.
While the future of West Virginia's SNAP benefits is unknown at this time, Hawkins said DHHR will implement whatever policy is passed.
"We are monitoring the bill and we'll make the required changes," Hawkins said. "A lot of those things are not optional. They're required."