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Funding for food stamps has been a crucial sticking point in the debate over the farm bill.

Franken joins Senate Democrats in supporting food stamps

Al Franken

DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken appeared on a renewable energy panel at Farmfest earlier this year. (Staff photo: Charley Shaw)

DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken joined dozens of U.S. Senate Democrats yesterday in supporting funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal welfare program better known by its common name, “food stamps.” Franken is one of 39 U.S. Senators — 37 Democrats and two left-leaning Independents — who signed a letter which was sent to the conference committee members now working on revising the farm bill, a group that includes three of Franken’s fellow Minnesotans.

“This past week,” Franken said, in a statement attached to the letter, “I met with farmers and farm leaders from across Minnesota who want us to ensure that we don’t hurt children, seniors and families in Minnesota and across the country by slashing SNAP funding in the farm bill. I’ve seen firsthand how these safety-net benefits are an effective tool to help fight hunger across Minnesota in our rural and urban communities alike.”

Franken was joined in signing the letter by most of his more liberal colleagues in the U.S. Senate, as well as a number of lawmakers who represent states with a large agricultural industry.

Funding for food stamps has been a crucial sticking point in the debate over the farm bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate reduced the program’s overall budget by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years, while Republicans in the House went considerably further, cutting SNAP by $39 billion. Narrowing that gulf is expected to be one of the most difficult tasks for the conference committee.

DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and DFL U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz were all named as conferees. Walz and Peterson, who serves as the Democratic lead on the House Agriculture Committee, have both spoken out against the House version of the bill. In a column that appeared in the Star Tribune, Walz chose to avoid the welfare issue, instead stressing the notion that Republicans and Democrats should seek common ground in crafting a new bill.

“The farm bill has traditionally been one of the great, bipartisan compromises in Congress,” Walz wrote.

That conference committee will hold its first public hearing today. By law, the conference must meet at least one time in public, but members may choose to hash out their differences in private after the initial hearing.

Also on Monday, the state Department of Human Services announced that SNAP recipients would see a decrease in benefits beginning in November owing to the end of a temporary boost passed as part of the federal stimulus bill. Individuals will receive $11 less in benefits next month than the $200 they are set to receive in October, while a family of four’s total SNAP benefits will drop from $668 to $632, a decrease of $36.

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