Farms and No Food? – SNAP and the 2018 Farm Bill

What is the Farm Bill?
The farm bill is an “omnibus” piece of legislation that combines funding for a lot of different programs into one piece of legislation. The first farm bill was passed in response to the dust bowl in the 1930s and was meant to increase farm incomes and encourage conservation. Since then, the farm bill has grown in scope to include other programs, and would reauthorize various commodity, trade, rural development, agricultural research, and food and nutrition programs. Under the current farm law, program authorizations will expire Sept. 30 or the end of the applicable crop year.

Historically, the farm bill has passed with considerable bipartisan support, but in recent years it has become more contentious as Republicans have ramped up their attempts to enact sweeping changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP that may make it harder for people struggling to make ends meet to get food assistance.

Current Status of the 2018 Farm Bill
In May, the House version of the Farm Bill was defeated when 30 Republicans voted with Democrats to defeat the bill. On June 21, the House passed the bill by a narrow margin – 213-211. Democrats were unanimous in their opposition to the bill over severe cuts, new work requirements and expanded penalties for food stamp recipients. Twenty Republicans joined with Democrats in opposing the bill, but eight Freedom Caucus members flipped their votes from May and voted in favor of the bill.

The Senate version of the bill passed out of the Agriculture Committee on June 13, with consideration by the full chamber expected before July 4. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan research and policy institute with a focus on reducing poverty and inequality, gives the Senate version a thumbs up for its handling of SNAP. According to the CBPP, the bill included a bipartisan nutrition title that would reauthorize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and improve SNAP’s program integrity and operations. The bill also would expand the 2014 farm bill’s pilot program to test promising approaches to job training and other employment-related activities for SNAP participants and would make targeted investments in SNAP that help seniors and people with disabilities, as well as Indian Tribes. And, the bill would make changes to and increase funding for certain grant programs outside of SNAP.[1]

What’s Next and the Impact to SNAP
While the Senate’s version of the bill may prove more palatable, the two bills ultimately need to be reconciled and currently there are wide differences – especially to the SNAP program. The House version seeks tighter work requirements for eligibility, increasing the work requirement age to 59 (from 49) and increasing penalties for those that fail to prove they’ve met the 20 hours per week work requirement with elimination of benefits for one year and up to three years. States also lose the flexibility to make the program easier for participants to use.

This is part of a larger push to radically transform federal assistance programs. Since Trump took office, Republicans in Congress and in the administration have been adding or tightening work requirements for programs like SNAP and Medicaid. These restrictions don’t do anything to help the people served by these programs, but they do result in more people falling into poverty as the protections they rely on are stripped away.

House Republicans have been playing a cynical game in selling their partisan farm bill. They say it has no SNAP cuts. Don’t be fooled: the House Agriculture Committee farm bill would cut or take away SNAP benefits from 1.5-2 million people, and we expect that amount will be much higher if it became law. Thousands of children would also risk losing their enrollment in free and reduced-price school meal programs.

It’s important to stay tuned to what’s happening as it unfolds on a near daily basis. If a final bill isn’t authorized before the deadline of September 30, most likely there will be an interim extension.

It’s also important to note that this enormous bill also has ramifications for renewable energy programs, the environment, small local farms and markets, and much more.

For more information, read the CBPP’s report on the Senate version of the bill here, and read the organization’s statement on the detrimental impact of the House bill passed June 21 here.

Call to Action:
Leonard Lance and Brian Fitzpatrick voted against the House bill, breaking with party lines. The Senate still needs to call a floor vote, so determine your Senators’ stance on the Senate version, which is generally agreed to be more supportive of SNAP. Watch carefully as the bill goes into reconciliation – and demand that the final bill expand support for SNAP, lighten work requirements as well as provide flexibility for states to re-assess or waive work requirements in times of hardship or low job availability. Finally, any job training programs should be effective and applicable to employment opportunities that are available or can be made available within a reasonable geographic area of a recipient’s residence, and not just drain dollars from the program while for an unwieldy, bureaucratic ‘jobs’ program with an ineffective outcome.

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