The initial 2018 Farm Bill, officially titled Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, text was released on April 12 by Chairman Mike Conway (TX) and the House Agriculture Committee. Chairman Conway’s release statement highlighted his belief that the 2018 Farm Bill will help address the economic challenges facing farmers and ranchers, while making historic investments in opportunities for SNAP recipients. There are five aspects of the bill highlighted in this post. They include:
- Bill Text and Release Statement
- SNAP Changes
- Farm Bill Political Battle Lines
- Challenges for Timely Passage
- Farm Program Changes
1. Text Released
Let’s begin with Rep. Conway’s press release.
Washington, D.C. – Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) introduced the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) – critical legislation to address the economic challenges facing the nation’s farmers and ranchers, while making historic investments in opportunities for SNAP recipients. Upon introducing the bill in the House, Chairman Conaway said:
“Rural America is hurting. Over the last five years, net farm income has been cut in half. Natural disasters and global markets distorted by predatory trade practices of foreign countries, including high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, have resulted in huge production losses and chronically depressed prices that are today jeopardizing the future of America’s farm and ranch families.
“The farm bill keeps faith with our nation’s farmers and ranchers through the current agriculture recession by providing certainty and helping producers manage the enormous risks that are inherent in agriculture. The farm bill also remains faithful to the American taxpayer and consumer. Under the farm bill, consumers will continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world, and taxpayers will reap the more than $112 billion in budget savings projected under the current law.
“Ensuring an affordable food supply is important to every citizen, but it is absolutely critical to the most vulnerable among us who struggle every week to put food on the table. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is reauthorized under the farm bill, is essential to helping many Americans feed themselves and their families.
“The farm bill also keeps faith with these families by not only maintaining SNAP benefits but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families.
“I’m excited to share our vision with the American people – and eager for people to see the details of a proposal that offers people real hope and promise.
“I’m also looking forward to quickly moving this farm bill through the House and working with the Senate to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk that is on time, as the president has asked us to do.”
2. SNAP Changes
Conway also co-authored an editorial featured in usatoday.com about the legislation. The focus of this piece was to provide the argument for changing work requirements for able bodied SNAP recipients.
We believe our plan can support nutrition for families in need while also creating opportunities that move people forward and improve their futures.
People want to believe the American dream is attainable.
That’s why we need to shift the conversation on poverty in this country from one focused purely on benefits to one about improving futures.
Our proposal is straightforward: help those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who are work-capable find employment to support their households.
Under this proposal, work-capable SNAP recipients will need to work for at least 20 hours per week. That can take a variety of forms: they can work, participate in a work program, or participate in a SNAP employment and training (E&T) program. This bill makes a significant investment in training and case management to guarantee access to an E&T slot to anyone who wants one.
Rep. Conway clearly understands this change will require some persuasion as he posted a video on Twitter about his vision for the SNAP program.
.@ConawayTX11 on getting #SNAP policy right: It’s about helping every citizen realize the American dream by modernizing a program that helps lift folks out of poverty, rather than trapping them there. #HouseAg #farmbill pic.twitter.com/1tqofUSZ0P
— House Ag Committee (@HouseAgNews) April 11, 2018
3. Political Battle Lines
Traditionally the Farm Bill passes with bipartisan support in the Congress. This year is likely no different but that doesn’t mean some partisan skirmishes won’t break out. Rep. Conway is definitely expecting some resistance to the SNAP changes. Authors Chatherine Boudreau, Helena Bottemiller Evich and Liz Crampton of Politico, in their story titled, “Congress Braces for High Stakes Farm Bill Battle”, also anticipate this is where the political battle lines will be drawn.
This farm bill was supposed to be an easier lift.
But things got messy fast. With a House battle over the future of food stamps leading to the collapse of bipartisan talks last month, the prospect of getting the bill done before the current law expires on Sept. 30 is shaping up to be another high-stakes exploit.
“There are extremes on either ends of the parties — hardcore Republicans who won’t support the farm bill, as well as hardcore Democrats,” said Tamara Hinton, senior vice president of the public affairs firm Story Partners, and former spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee when Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) was chairman. “So it has to be a coalition in the middle that understands what’s at stake.”
House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is already predicting the current law will have to be extended unless Republicans and Democrats can agree on changes to the $70 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“I just don’t see how this works,” he told the North American Agricultural Journalists on Tuesday, suggesting that as many as 50 Republicans may not be in favor of the bill — a dynamic that would imperil the legislation without Democratic support.
Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are drafting that chamber’s farm bill, which they hope to advance out of committee by May. Both are acutely aware of the need to secure 60 votes to move a bill on the floor of the Senate and, for that reason, are not expected to propose any major changes to SNAP.
By and large, the likely endgame of this farm bill cycle will be the status quo, despite calls from taxpayer watchdog and conservative advocacy groups to rein in the approximately $13 billion spent annually on commodity support payments and crop insurance subsidies.
Conservatives want to tighten eligibility and impose stricter work requirements on able-bodied adults in order to move them off the program and onto a path of self-sufficiency. Conaway and his staff have insisted there will be no cuts to SNAP in the House bill. Instead, they say they plan to reinvest savings from stricter work requirements and eligibility standards into USDA-funded training programs.
Democrats, though, view the program as the front lines of the Republican war on the social safety net and have vowed to oppose any attempt to substantially change the program.
Over in the Senate, where Republicans have only a one-vote margin, Roberts and Stabenow have repeatedly rebuffed proposals to make major changes to SNAP as they work to come up with a bipartisan bill. It remains to be seen how the House and Senate thread the needle on SNAP so the bill can clear both chambers.
The Politico piece concludes that with a House battle over food stamps halting bipartisan talks last month, the prospect of getting the bill done before Sept. 30 is looking challenging.
4. Timely Passage
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released a statement about the 2018 Farm Bill. Secretary Perdue recognized both the heavy lift to get to this point but also the uncertainty and need to pass legislation before the old Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2018.
(Washington, D.C., April 12, 2018) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today issued the following statement on the release of the 2018 Farm Bill:
“I applaud Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for their diligence and hard work in crafting the 2018 Farm Bill.
While there is still much work to be done, I am pleased that this Farm Bill aligns with many of the principles USDA released in January. I look forward to working with the Agriculture Committees and members of Congress from both sides to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill in a timely fashion to provide the needed support and certainty to our farmers.”
DTN Progressive Farmer’s Chris Clayton covered various aspects of the Farm Bill text release today. Clayton also identified the brewing SNAP battle.
Much of the battle over the farm bill is already concentrated on nutrition programs. House Republicans are tightening up rules for people defined as able-bodied without dependents, a population that includes roughly 3.5 million people. The farm bill would prevent states from getting work and job-training exemptions for those people. At the same time, the GOP is planning to expand investment in federal job-training programs.
As House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, rolls out his bill, he’s taking his case to the public that tighter work requirements for SNAP recipients will improve their quality of life.
Peterson and other House Democrats have sharply criticized the GOP plan for SNAP. Peterson has gone to social program offices in Minnesota and North Dakota, and he said his takeaway is the GOP plan “will not work and is a waste of money.” Peterson said the federal government now spends money on 200,000 job-training slots, but would increase those slots to up to 3 million people.
The SNAP plan would essentially require people who draw $80 to $130 or so in SNAP per month to go to 20 hours a week of job training. “Basically, it’s designed to be a hassle factor so people will just drop out of the program,” Peterson said earlier this week. “That’s basically, from what I can tell, the purpose of it.”
The Senate also is unlikely to do anything similar. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has no plans to include more job-training requirements in the Senate bill. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said such plans would disrupt the bipartisan focus needed to pass a farm bill in the Senate.
5. Farm Program Changes
Clayton chose to highlight farm program changes as his piece was subtitled, “Outside of Dairy, Most Farm Programs Look Similar to Current Farm Bill”.
OMAHA (DTN) — Congressmen have been quick to point out 2018 farm income is projected to be less than half of what it was five years ago, but the farm bill draft rolled out Thursday by House Agriculture Committee leadership makes few changes to the safety net for most commodity producers.
Some key changes in the farm bill plan for farmers:
- The Agricultural Risk Coverage program would use crop insurance data to determine county yields. Price Loss Coverage would adjust reference prices when markets improve and allow farmers affected by droughts to update yields. Farmers would also be allowed to change elections for ARC or PLC.
- Marketing loans are maintained and the sugar policy remains the same.
- Crop insurance is held harmless with few or little changes made.
- The Conservation Stewardship Program would end with no new sign-ups and current CSP contracts allowed to expire. To offset some of the losses, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is beefed up.
Farm income changes vary by commodity, but dairy farmers are projected to see a 19% income decline this year. The fourth year of low prices is leading to a crisis among dairy farmers.
“There’s too much milk and not enough processing, basically,” said Patti Edelburg, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and vice president of the National Farmers Union. “The supply is way over demand, and milk is a product you have to sell. You can store corn for quite a while, where milk is obviously a perishable product, and you have to sell it.”
Dairy farmers could be the big winners in new commodity programs. The much-panned Margin Protection Program is overhauled and renamed the Dairy Risk Management (DRM) program. The changes, influenced heavily by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., build on an $880 million boost in funding for the dairy safety net passed in the farm bill. Under the plan, the coverage costs for DRM would be 9 cents per hundredweight on the first 5 million pounds of milk covered.
The September 30th deadline for passing the 2018 Farm Bill is fast approaching. The U.S. family farmer isn’t in a position to be caught in a high-stakes political game. Let’s hope the historical bipartisan nature of passing the Farm Bill continues in 2018.
Thumbnail Image Courtesy Politico
Image Courtesy Rural Radio Network