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Farm Bill: SNAP Issues Hamper Timeline

Farm Bill issues related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP- food stamps) appear to be hampering progress on the measure this week.  Today’s update highlights recent news items that discuss the current impasse over SNAP provisions.

Background- A Democrat “Revolt”

Late last week, House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) discussed the Farm Bill on the Adams on Agriculture radio program with host Mike Adams (unofficial transcript here).

During their conversation, Rep. Peterson indicated that, “Well, you know, the staff has been working through issues and all the different titles. Some of them are actually pretty close to being done.

But we kind of hit an impasse last night, and I don’t know exactly where this is going, but at this point I think we could be on a path to having a partisan farm bill.

And I don’t know if they’ll actually be able to pass it with just Republican votes, but unless something changes, that’s probably where we’re heading.”

Rep. Peterson noted that, “The problem is they have come up with this food stamp proposal that is similar to what killed the bill in 2013, and my side is in revolt, and there will not be one single vote on the Democratic side in committee for this bill if what they have currently in the bill is in there. So we have—I’ve been telling him for a long time that this isn’t going to fly, and they are not listening. And so this is what’s holding it up at this point…[m]aybe they’re going to move ahead and they’re just going to have Republican votes. I think they can get it out of committee that way. But at the end of the day, the Senate is not going to do any of this stuff, so this is an exercise in futility for no good reason that I can see, so I don’t know. As you can tell, I’m a little frustrated right now.”

Mike Adams asked, “So you’re saying for the Democrats these changes being proposed for the nutrition program, the food stamp, the SNAP program, that’s a deal breaker for your party?”

Rep. Peterson replied, “Yes. Yes. It’s the same scheme that basically they had that killed the bill in 2013 on the floor. They want to take eight million people off the rolls and they want to take the money they save and give it to the states to create a job training bureaucracy, which is kind of the same thing they tried to do in 2013.

“And they’re also increasing…so currently people over 60 are not affected by these rules. They want to increase that to 65. So all of a sudden if you’ve got people that are retired cops, or retired military or whatever, all of a sudden they’re going to be cut off the rolls unless they agree to go back to work. So we’ve got people retiring at 50, 55 because they’re in those kind of professions where they can do that, and some of them, you know, if they’re not making…they don’t have a lot of income, they’re on a small amount of food stamps, and they’re going to knock them off.”

Rep. Peterson added that, “The Senate’s not going to make any significant changes in SNAP. They’re just, they’re not going to do it. They’re not interested in it.”

“Design Issues in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Looking Ahead by Looking Back,” by Victor Oliveira, Mark Prell, Laura Tiehen, and David Smallwood. USDA- Economic Research Service, ERR-243 (January 25, 2018).

Perspective from Chairman Mike Conaway

With this background in mind, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Monday that, “‘While the chairman has said publicly that he would like to move a bill by the end of Q1 [the first quarter of 2018] — and that remains the goal — ultimately he would still like to move a bipartisan bill,’ Rachel Millard, Conaway’s communications director, said in an email. ‘So we’re working closely with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to try to get there.'”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that,

Conaway in an email disputed Peterson’s view of the situation

“‘I have always intended and continue to hope that this farm bill will be a bipartisan bill. There is no reason that it should not be and every reason it should. Our farmers and ranchers are hurting, [Conaway said].

“‘In regard to SNAP, I successfully led efforts to prevent cuts to the farm bill, including to SNAP, last year and my position has not changed. That is a matter of public record,’ Conaway said.

“‘I have made it clear that policy, not budget cuts, will govern the writing of this farm bill, including SNAP.

“In fact, not one person would be forced off SNAP due to the work or training requirements we have been discussing. Not one. Our approach is not even remotely like the approach taken in 2013 that caused the farm bill to fail.'”

Continued Discussions

On Tuesday, Bloomberg writers Alan Bjerga and Erik Wasson reported that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway said he’s delaying the release of a draft law renewing farm and nutrition programs to try and produce a bill with bipartisan support after intense Democratic opposition over cuts to the food-stamp program raised the possibility the bill could be imperiled.

“‘What I don’t want to be is in those negotiations, put something out there and have to change it,’ the Texas Republican told reporters Tuesday. ‘We’re in negotiations.'”

Bjerga and Wasson noted that, “Conaway said he won’t rule out releasing a farm bill designed to appeal only to Republicans, which would put it at risk in the Senate, where Democratic votes are needed. He said he is still trying to gain Democratic support. The chairman had previously said his committee would send a farm bill to the House floor with the goal of a full-chamber vote by the end of March. That becomes more difficult without any bill this week.”

The Bloomberg article also stated that, “Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said it’s crucial to get the farm bill to get done this year because of the possibility that tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump might trigger retaliation that would hit farmers.”

Roberts last year signaled a tough stance on food-stamp fraud, even as also acknowledged that major changes were less likely in the more evenly-divided Senate. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on Senate Agriculture, said that House-crafted food-stamp cuts as proposed are ‘not going to fly’ in her chamber.”

Helena Bottemiller Evich, Catherine Boudreau and Liz Crampton reported on Wednesday at Politico that, “A fight over how tough to make work requirements in the food stamp program is already threatening to derail the House farm bill, which some see as one of the only shots for bipartisan legislation this year.

The House Agriculture Committee, which was expected to release its bill as early as this week, is keeping a very tight lid on its proposal to change the program. But what little has leaked out has infuriated groups on the left and the right, jeopardizing its prospects for passage.

The Politico article added that, “Despite their revolt last week, some committee Democrats remain hopeful a bipartisan deal is possible as meetings between Conaway and Peterson continue.

“‘The outline of the nutrition title that was presented to the Agriculture Committee provoked a visceral reaction among my Democratic colleagues,’ said Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), a freshman on the Nutrition Subcommittee. ‘We want bipartisan support for the provision, and I hope that we can work with Chairman Conaway to get there.'”

And DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Wednesday that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, told reporters Wednesday that there will not be a farm bill markup next week.

USA Rice stated on its website Conaway’s decision would delay the markup to April at the earliest.

“Conaway and House Democrats are in conflict over the way the nutrition title handles the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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