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House Names Farm Bill Conference Committee Members- SNAP Issues Persist

A news release on Wednesday from the House Ag Committee stated that, “Today, the House of Representatives moved to send the 2018 Farm Bill to conference committee. Following the vote, Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-1) named the House conferees, or members who will seek to resolve the differences between the two chambers’ bills.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (TX- 11) noted that, “The House has pulled together a solid team of conferees from across the country who are committed to working with our Senate colleagues to reach a final product that helps millions of low-income Americans climb the economic ladder while standing by the hard-working farm and ranch families who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs.”

Politico’s Morning Agriculture reported on Thursday that, “[Speaker] Ryan named 29 Republicans as conferees, while [Minority Leader] Pelosi selected 18 Democrats. A majority of the lawmakers — 23 of them — sit on the Agriculture Committee. The list, naturally, includes Chairman Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).”

Illinois lawmakers Rodney Davis (R), Cheri Bustos (D) and John Shimkus (R) were included in the conference committee selections.

On Wednesday, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kans.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) released a joint statement after the House conference committee action, noting that: “In order to be successful in passing a final bill, the conference committee must put politics aside and focus on the needs of our farmers, families, and rural communities. We are eager to go to conference, so we can move quickly to provide certainty for American farmers and families. Rural America is counting on us to get this right.”

Meanwhile, Axios writer Zachary Basu reported earlier this week that, “Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) dismissed the pushback he’s been getting on the farm bill during an Axios event in Washington, asserting that there’s ‘no reason‘ Congress shouldn’t get the bill done by the Sept. 30 expiration date and that it’s ‘too important not to.'”

Within the next couple weeks, Conaway expects both the House and the Senate to go to committee to hash out the bill’s language,” the Axios update said.

Conference Committee Issues- SNAP at the Top of the List

Recall that a recent farmdoc daily update pointed to five key issues that the Farm Bill conference committee will need to address, and stated that,

The single biggest challenge for conference negotiators will be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Ellyn Ferguson reported this week at Roll Call Online that, “The most contentious divide between the chambers is the scope of work requirements for food stamp recipients.

“‘I need 70 percent of Democrats in this world who believe work requirements are a proper thing and 90 percent of Republicans in this world who believe work requirements are a proper thing to tell their senator, ‘Hey, that work requirement makes a lot of sense,’’ Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway told the audience at an Axios forum Tuesday morning.”

Ms. Ferguson explained, “The Senate version of the farm bill, however, does not include new work requirements. Many states already have work requirements, Roberts and Stabenow said during a CQ on Congress podcast last week.

“‘The House bill takes $8 billion and sends it to the states,’ Roberts said. ‘I don’t know who is going to implement this. I don’t know who in the Department of Agriculture has the capability to send that money out to states. … Who is going to conduct the job training?'”

Coppess, J., G. Schnitkey, C. Zulauf and N. Paulson. “2018 Farm Bill: Two Big Steps Forward & the Top Five Issues for Conference.” farmdoc daily (8):122, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, July 3, 2018.

In addition, Bloomberg writer Teaganne Finn reported last week that, “Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said he wishes the House had not ‘moved so dramatically and made the SNAP issue paramount‘ so that lawmakers could see how the Senate bill addresses other issues, such as waivers and abuse of bonus payments.

“Roberts added that the House provision’s training requirements would be premature.

‘It’s too early to determine how best each population and each region can really effect results with job training,’ he said, referring to the current farm bill’s pilot programs which have yet to be evaluated.

The Bloomberg update also noted that, “‘I can’t get a conference report through the House without some pretty strong work requirements,’ Conaway told reporters July 10.”

“When asked if the House provisions were completely unacceptable to the Senate, Stabenow said, ‘Yes,'” according to the article.

And a Detroit News article from earlier this month reported that, “Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture committee, said the Senate farm bill handles work requirements the ‘right way.’

“‘I’m not going to be willing to do something that hurts Michigan children and families,’ she said in an interview.”

The article also indicated that, “‘We don’t just tell people to go out and get a job — no, we will walk side-by-side with recipients so they can get the training and case management they need to thrive in today’s economy,’ Conaway said in a statement to The Detroit News.”

With respect to executive branch perspective on this issue, an article from earlier this month included this view from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue:  “‘The House felt very strongly – frankly, as I do – that there should be some work requirements associated with the generosity and the compassion of the American taxpayer.  If people enjoy the benefits of having food for their family … they should expect that someone that’s taking advantage of that, or utilizing that during down times, are trying to better themselves to a more independent lifestyle.'”

Also, The Washington Post editorial board stated recently that, “A large bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected the work requirement, which may mean that it can’t survive the conference committee.”

While the editorial board at The Wall Street Journal opined that, “The two chambers will have to sort out their differences [over the Farm Bill], and the House reforms deserve to prevail.”

In additional background on the SNAP issue, Bloomberg writers Reade Pickert and Alan Bjerga reported on Thursday that, “Judging by the number of Americans on food stamps, it doesn’t feel like one of the best job markets in almost a half century and the second-longest economic expansion on record.

“Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, fell to 39.6 million in April, the most recent government data show.  That’s down from a record 47.8 million in 2012, but as a share of the population it’s just back to where it was as the economy emerged from the longest and deepest downturn since the Great Depression.”

The Bloomberg writers noted that, “Food-stamp use generally responds to economic conditions, but it’s not quite a direct link, according to Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts University’s nutrition school in Boston. ‘We’re many years into an economic expansion after the Great Recession and just now we’re starting to enjoy dips in SNAP participation,’ Wilde said, as lower unemployment begins to chip away at economic insecurity.”

“Food-Stamp Use Is Still at Recession-Era Levels Despite Job Gains,” by Reade Pickert and Alan Bjerga. Bloomberg News (July 19, 2018).

Thursday’s article added that, “Applying for benefits has gotten easier, in part because online access has increased. That’s helped lift enrollment to 83 percent of those eligible for food stamps in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, up from 69 percent in 2006, according to the USDA.

“Wilde of Tufts said SNAP use will decline modestly, remaining elevated by historical standards until the next contraction inevitably rolls around — potentially sending enrollments to new heights. ‘We’re still at fairly high participation rates,’ he said.”

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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