Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chambliss Praises Strong Senate Vote In Support Of Farm Bill

The U.S. Senate today overwhelmingly approved the bipartisan farm bill conference report, coauthored by U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The farm bill, titled the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, includes the most significant reforms to payment limitations in the history of American farm policy, as well as increased funding for nutrition, energy, specialty crops and conservation programs.

“We are now one step closer to making the new farm bill a reality,” said Sen. Chambliss. “Our bill provides certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers and restates the strong commitment of Congress to the hungry and less fortunate. The farm bill includes provisions to help low-income Americans meet nutritional needs by providing school children with increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables and enhancing our investments to the Food Stamp Program and food banks. We have written a good bill not only for American agriculture, but for millions of needy Americans and I strongly urge the President to sign it into law.”

Sen. Chambliss championed several provisions in the bill including a measure to exempt IRS-approved education and retirement accounts from counting against the asset limit for food stamps. The nutrition title received the largest funding increase, totaling over $10 billion in new resources to enhance our country’s nutrition safety-net. Sen. Chambliss has noted that the increase was no small accomplishment and additional resources were made available by reductions in the commodity and crop insurance programs.

The following reforms and improvements are included in the nutrition title of the report:

• STRENGTHENS ASSISTANCE FOR FOOD BANKS: To help local organizations dedicated to fight hunger, the farm bill provides $1.256 billion over the next ten years to increase commodity purchases for food banks – an increase of nearly double the current level of funding.

• ENCOURAGES RETIREMENT AND EDUCATION SAVINGS: The nutrition title includes a provision which would exempt IRS-approved retirement and education savings accounts from the asset test when applying for benefits. This provision will help protect low-income Americans from having to deplete certain IRS-approved accounts, as well as pay the penalties and taxes for early withdrawal, if they are in need of short-term assistance.

• INCREASES THE STANDARD DEDUCTION FOR FOOD STAMP HOUSEHOLDS: The farm bill increases the standard deduction from $134 to $144 and indexes it to inflation, therefore providing a slightly higher benefit level for many participating households.

• INCREASES THE MINIMUM BENEFIT: The current minimum benefit is set at $10 and has not been raised in over 30 years. The bill raises the minimum benefit to $14 and indexes that level to future inflation.

• UPDATES THE NAME OF THE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM: To better reflect the mission of the program and the fact that “stamps” have been replaced by electronic benefit cards, the new name is the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”.

• PROVIDES MORE FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES TO SCHOOL CHILDREN: The bill includes an expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides free fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income children in schools. Over the next ten years, $1 billion is invested in this initiative, which will allow it to serve as many as 3 million low-income children.

• CONTINUES THE SENIOR FARMERS’ MARKET NUTRITION PROGRAM: The bill expands food assistance to low-income seniors by $50 million over the next ten years in order to help them purchase agricultural products at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and other community-supported agriculture programs.

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 has already passed the House and will now be sent to the President.

Audio of Sen. Chambliss’ floor speech on Senate passage of the farm bill can be found at

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