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Farm Bill Conference Committee Convenes

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported Wednesday that, “Conferees on the farm bill understand the economic challenges facing farmers and want to get a farm bill done to provide certainty — a popular word among them — to farmers and rural America.

“Leading lawmakers on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, committing to get a farm bill done by Sept. 30; however, many of the conferees had significant reservations about specific provisions or differences between the House and Senate bills.”

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kans.) stated that, “It is not an exaggeration to say our nation’s food and fiber production capability hangs in the balance with what we do here on this legislation. Time is of the essence. Let us work together to get this done.”

With respect to the SNAP program, Chairman Roberts indicated that, “I share the goal of promoting work and self-sufficiency among SNAP participants.

“And, we can find ways to work toward that goal by improving the program. Investments in employment and training that demonstrate success, partnerships with the private sector, and more accountability can all help get folks back on the path to long-term employment.

“We can find ways to provide tools to states, to people, to employers and to non-profits that will get people working again.”

Chairman Roberts added, “These types of measures could bring more accountability to the program and will lead to reduced error rates, which have resulted in billions of dollars in improper SNAP payments.”

“Percent of population receiving SNAP benefits varied by State in fiscal 2017.” USDA- Economic Research Service (August 28, 2018).

Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) pointed out at Wednesday’s meeting that, “Nutrition programs already have strong work requirements.  We maintained and strengthened them in the Senate bill by creating new job training opportunities to help participants find good paying jobs so they no longer need temporary help.”

Meanwhile, in his opening remarks, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) noted that, “There are certainly areas of disagreement between the two chambers—disagreements that stretch far beyond the nutrition title and are plainly reflected in our respective versions of the farm bill.

But the good news is that I have seen no disagreement that should prevent us from completing a strong farm bill on time.  Even on SNAP, I have repeatedly stressed that we are willing and able to come to consensus with the Senate.

And Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), the Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee stated at Wednesday’s meeting, “It makes no sense—and it doesn’t benefit those farmers one bit—to relitigate how we got here. It doesn’t get us any closer to our goal.  We’re all here for the same reason: to deliver for the people who count on the programs within this bill.”

Interestingly, on the same day that lawmakers held the first pubic Farm Bill conference committee meeting, the USDA’s Economic Research Service released an annual report on food security in the U.S. titled, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2017.”

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga discussed the ERS report in an article from Wednesday, where he reported that, “The number of people facing hunger in the U.S. declined last year to the lowest since 2007 as unemployment fell, a key data point as Congress debates changes to food-aid programs as part of farm legislation.

About 40 million people were ‘food insecure’ in 2017, meaning that at some point in the year their ability to obtain adequate food was in question, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an annual study released Wednesday. That represents a 2.8 percent decline from 2016. Hunger was most prevalent in New Mexico, with 17.9 percent of households affected, while Hawaii’s rate of 7.4 percent was the lowest in the nation.”

“U.S. Hunger Is at Lowest in a Decade,” by Alan Bjerga. Bloomberg News (September 5, 2018).

With respect to executive branch Farm Bill perspective, Reuters writers Lisa Lambert and Roberta Rampton reported on Wednesday that, “U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the final agriculture bill that the U.S. Congress sends to him to sign into law should include work requirements for people receiving food stamps, the grocery subsidies officially called ‘SNAP.'”

The Reuters article noted that, “More than 40 million eligible, low-income Americans use SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to subsidize their groceries. Authorization for SNAP funding is included in the sweeping agriculture bill that also covers crop subsidies, rural development, and conservation.”

In his DTN article from Wednesday, Chris Clayton also noted that at Wednesday’s conference committee meeting, “Southern Republicans questioned changes to actively engaged rules in the Senate bill and a lowering of the adjusted gross income eligibility for farmers, going from $900,000 under current law to $700,000 AGI. They backed a broader definition of family farm in the House version of the bill.”

“‘A sudden death in the family can unravel a family farm that’s been running for generations,’ said Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La. ‘And I support including nieces, nephews and cousins in the definition of actively engaged.'”

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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