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Subsidy Debate Weighs Farmers Versus Children

U. S. lawmakers will need to choose between supporting rich farmers or feeding more hungry children amid a slumping economy and surging deficit, U. S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said March 2.

Vilsack said he already has heard some questions and concerns about the Obama administration’s plan to redirect subsidy payments for large farmers into nutrition programs as a way to help end hunger by 2015 and stem the rising tide of childhood obesity.

“We will do our best to frame this discussion in that way, so that people understand: 30 million children, 90,000 farmers,” Vilsack told Reuters after speaking to people who work with the nation’s food banks and anti-poverty groups. “It is a tough choice, but it’s a choice that folks are going to have to make,” he said.

Lawmakers rejected proposals for the 2008 farm law to limit grain, cotton and soybean farmers to a maximum of $250,000 a year in crop subsidies. But they voted to deny crop subsidies to people with more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income from off the farm and they tightened payment rules somewhat.

Vilsack said times have changed in the months since the 2008 law was enacted. “This is a different time than even when the farm bill was passed,” he said in an interview, noting the dire economic conditions.

He urged anti-hunger advocates gathered in Washington to make the case to Congress to support the move.

“There are vested interest groups that want to protect those (direct farm) payments,” Vilsack said in a speech.

“They are very vested. One fellow suggested that this was a declaration of war,” he said.

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