WASHINGTON (AP) — Nutrition, food stamp and dairy aid programs were among the winners as the House on Wednesday approved a $121 billion agriculture spending bill for the 2010 budget year.
Reflecting the growing number of people scrambling to get by in tough economic times, the bill provides $58.2 billion for the food stamp program, a jump of $4.3 billion from last year.
Similarly, the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children receives $7.3 billion, up $400 million from 2009 nonemergency levels. Aid to school and child care nutrition programs goes up $1.9 billion to $16.9 billion.
The vote on the bill was 263-162, with much of the opposition coming from Republicans concerned about the spending increases. "Our country is working to scrape its way out of a debilitating recession, and now is not the time to divert our precious resources to massive spending," California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said.
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., head of the Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, defended the spending. "Our fundamental responsibility as legislators and leaders, to stay nothing of basic morality and fairness, demands that we do everything we can to help Americans suffering right now from poverty and malnutrition."
The legislation, the result of House-Senate negotiations, now goes to the Senate for a final vote before being sent to the president for his signature.
As of July about 36 million people received food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, about half of them children. That's up some 6 million from 2008. The stimulus package passed in February also directed $20 billion over five years to the food stamp program.
The average monthly benefit for a family of four is $226. The maximum for a family of four is $668.
The WIC supplemental feeding program reaches some 9.2 million people, including almost half of all children born in the United States, according to the Agriculture Department.
The legislation contains $23.3 billion for programs under Congress' immediate control, such as the Food and Drug Administration, agriculture research, food safety, rural housing assistance and conservation programs. The other 80 percent, almost $100 billion, is for benefit programs such as food stamps and school nutrition.
The bill, which covers federal programs for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, contains two major policy initiatives, one for dairy farmers and the other for imported poultry products from China:
Lawmakers from dairy-producing states succeeded in getting $350 million in aid for milk farmers struggling to cope with falling market prices. That includes $60 million to cover the federal purchase of surplus cheese and other dairy products. The purchased products would go to food banks and other nutrition programs.
The dairy aid proposal was welcomed by lawmakers from the Midwest and Northeast where dairy operations are smaller, but drew claims of unfairness from lawmakers in California, home to much larger dairy farms.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., after meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday, said she was encouraged that the Agriculture Department "is committed to ensuring that these emergency funds are distributed to our dairy producers in a way that is regionally equitable."
Boxer's office said she maintained a "hold" on the spending bill, a legislative move that makes bringing the bill to the Senate floor more difficult, while she clarifies the intent of the measure.
The House also agreed to a Senate proposal to lift a ban on poultry products imported from China conditioned on inspectors certifying that the products meet U.S. safety standards.
The agriculture measure is one of 12 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2010 that Congress must pass. Also on Wednesday, House and Senate negotiators finished work on a $42.8 billion homeland security bill that includes $10 billion for customs and border protection, $5.4 billion for immigration and customs enforcement and $7.7 billion for the Transportation Security Administration, all up from the previous year.
The bill includes a plan under which current Guantanamo Bay detainees can be transferred into the United States to face trial. That decision will boost President Barack Obama's efforts to shut down the U.S. prison, but faces continued opposition from Republicans and some Democrats who have campaigned hard to keep terrorist detainees out of the U.S.
The bill is H.R. 2997.
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