THE NEWS: The Agriculture Department plans to impose tougher penalties on stores that violate food stamp rules and give states new tools to root out applicants who are ineligible for the benefit program.

THE DETAILS: The move comes as Congress struggles to pass a $100 billion-a-year bill that will fund food stamps and determine farm policy for the next five years. Some 80 percent of the money in the farm and nutrition bill goes to the food stamp program.

THE BACKGROUND: Participation in the food stamp program has climbed from 28 million at the start of the recession to 46 million today and has become a focus of fiscally conservative lawmakers critical of government spending.