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Long-stalled farm bill gets through the Senate

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed the long-awaited farm bill on Tuesday, ending two years of partisan rancor and stalled negotiations and clearing what is expected to be the last hurdle for the nearly $1 trillion spending measure.

The bill was passed with strong bipartisan support, 68 to 32. The legislation now heads to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign it. The nearly 1,000-page bill reauthorizes hundreds of programs for agriculture, dairy production, conservation, nutrition, and international food aid.

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The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost $956 billion and reduce spending on farm subsidies and nutrition by $16.6 billion over the next 10 years. But lawmakers said the savings would be much higher, around $23 billion, when sequestration cuts to agriculture programs were factored in.

Among the changes in the bill are cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps; the expansion of the crop insurance program; and the elimination of direct payments to farmers. Direct payments have cost about $5 billion a year, and have been paid to farmers regardless of whether they grew crops.

Spending on the food stamp program will be reduced by about $8 billion over the next decade, and will account for about 1 percent of the total spending in the bill. The reduction in spending will affect about 1.7 million people, who will have their benefits reduced by about $90 a month, according to the budget office. The bill’s proponents said the measure closed a loophole exploited by 16 states that helped food stamp recipients get more in benefits than they should have.

But antihunger advocates said the cuts would increase the number of people in need of food, even though the bill adds about $205 million to food banks.

“These cuts will be absolutely devastating,” said Sheena Wright, the president of the United Way of New York City. “Two hundred million can in no way plug a nearly $9 billion hole.”

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