Proposed federal farm bill seeks to reduce numbers on food stamp program

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 271 views 

The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture has released a rough draft of its new proposed federal farm bill, and it contains several provisions that would slash costs by billions of dollars, and reduce the number of people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

House Republicans want to spend billions less on this farm bill than was spent on the previous farm bill that started in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Any major cuts to the farm bill would likely have to come through the SNAP program. It cost about $70 billion last year or about 80% of the annual outlay, according to the CBO. It offers food assistance to about 44 million Americans. Arkansas has more than 600,000 people on the SNAP rolls, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

An estimated $489 billion has been spent on that bill. The largest retailer in the world, Walmart, issued a statement to Talk Business & Politics stating the company will assist lawmakers as the legislation is developed in the coming weeks.

“We have stores in thousands of communities across the country and know that SNAP provides an important safety net for families and individuals who need a little extra help or are struggling to find consistent work. Any reforms to the program should not impact those who need it most. We agree that it is better for people to have reliable employment and the economic security to support themselves and their families without public assistance, but there must be robust programs in place that truly enable families to improve their employment and income opportunities.”

Arkansas Rice Federation Executive Director Lauren Waldrip-Ward told Talk Business & Politics her organization has been active during the previous year in helping Congress craft the bill. Producers testified at hearings about the agriculture economy, commodity programs, conservation and on international food aid programs.

“The bill’s nutrition and food stamp provisions are controversial, and have actually divided the committee along partisan lines, but the other titles reflect the good work that Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have done to craft a strong bill that supports farmers who are facing trade uncertainty and who have weathered consecutive years of down prices,” she said.

There are several provisions in the proposed bill that will aid farmers, she said. There will be several changes in the coming week as the bill is “marked up” with potential changes, she added.

“The text of the bill includes several changes that benefit our growers, including expanding the definition of a family to determine the eligibility of actively engaged producers on the farm, tweaking the conservation title to decrease cumbersome paperwork while making the programs more accessible to producers, and changes to the trade title to maintain funding for international promotion programs such as the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD). The bill maintains and improves upon the viable safety net for rice farmers provided under the 2014 Farm Bill,” she said.

Among the proposed changes to SNAP would be to change the part of the able body worker requirements. Most able bodied adults from the ages of 18-49 without dependents are not eligible for SNAP benefits unless they work at least 20 hours per week, according to the United State Agriculture Department. One provision in the bill would raise that age to 59 by 2021, and require them to either be working or in a training program for 20 hours per week. That standard will rise to 25 hours per week by 2026, according to the bill.

“The bill establishes a substantive work requirement for all work capable adults, thus eliminating both the general work requirement and the ABAWD time limits, with exemptions for specific populations including the elderly, disabled and those who are pregnant,” according to a talking points release on the U.S. House website.

Rep. Petersen issued a statement after the bill was released blasting the change.

“It makes no sense to put the farmers and rural communities who rely on the farm bill’s safety net programs at risk in pursuit of partisan ideology on SNAP. This bill attempts to change SNAP from a feeding program to a work program,” he said.

The farm bill was first created during the Great Depression in 1933. It includes farm aid, the federal food stamp program, conservation programs, and other programs impacted by agriculture. It’s typically revised every five years. If the House passes a bill, it will then be sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

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