WASHINGTON — The White House threatened to veto a five-year farm bill on Thursday because of “unacceptable deep cuts” in food stamps for the poor that could increase hunger across America.
In a statement on the eve of debate in the House of Representatives, the Obama administration said the bill should cut crop subsidy rates and crop insurance subsidies rather than public nutrition.
Food stamps are the major dispute in the farm bill. The House would cut food stamps by $20 billion over 10 years, the deepest cuts in a generation. Some 2 million people would lose benefits under the House proposal.
“The bill makes unacceptable deep cuts in (food stamps), which could increase hunger among millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including families with children and senior citizens,” said the White House.
It said there are better ways to reduce the deficit, including by reducing crop insurance subsidies. Spending on the taxpayer-supported crop insurance program would rise by 10 percent under the farm bill. The House bill also would boost so-called target prices for crop subsidies by 45 percent.
The House could begin debate on the farm bill as soon as Wednesday. More than 200 amendments have been proposed. Some would cut much deeper into the program. Three dozen Democrats sponsored an amendment to eliminate the food stamp cuts and to cut two new crop subsidies by $20 billion.
Some 47.7 million Americans received food stamps at latest count, with the average benefit of $132 a month or the equivalent of $1.50 a meal.
Enrollment has doubled since 2004 and costs, at $78 billion in fiscal 2012, were nearly triple.
Republican critics say the program is out of control and unaffordable. Defenders say enrollment soared as a result of the financial distress of 2008 and reflect continued high unemployment.
The Senate version of the farm bill, passed a week ago, proposes a $4 billion cut in food stamps as part of $24 billion in overall savings. The House gets half of its savings from food stamps.
The House bill would end “categorical eligibility,” created during welfare reform in 1996 to streamline state handling of welfare programs. It lets poor people apply for food stamps even if their assets are larger than usually allowed.