U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging passage of the nation's farm bill. Vilsack spoke in Little Rock yesterday as politicians in Washington were set to begin negotiations on the five-year, roughly $500 billion bill.
The farm bill sets policy for farm subsidies, rural development projects and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, better known as food stamps. The fight over renewing the farm bill has centered on cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamps program.
Vilsack said congressmen must combine food stamps with other the programs in the bill because it is crucial to reach support from both rural and urban constituencies that generally don't share similar interests.
On Friday, automatic cuts to food stamps are to take place as current levels of funding are scheduled to expire. It's been estimated nearly 500,000 Arkansans who use food stamps may be affected.
The House and Senate are far apart on the sensitive issue of how much money to cut on a more permanent basis from food stamps, and lawmakers are hoping to resolve that debate before election-year politics set in.
Chris Hickey contributed information to this article