U.S. Senate passes farm bill; conference for it and the House version begins

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 331 views 

Congress is one step closer to passing a new farm bill. The U.S. Senate passed its version of the bill by an 86-11 vote on Thursday (June 28). The bill will cost $867 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The U.S. House had already passed its version, meaning both bills now go to conference where legislators will try to iron out the differences and create a unified bill that will be approved by both chambers and then sent to President Donald Trump’s desk for a possible signature.

There are glaring difference between the two bills.

The House bill cuts about $20 billion during the next 10 years from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Critics argue the cuts will cause up to 2 million people to lose SNAP benefits. House Republicans want to spend billions less on SNAP than was spent on the previous farm bill that started in 2014, according to the CBO. 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 the current farm bill.

Among the proposed changes to SNAP are revisions to 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 Senate bill largely leaves the SNAP program alone.

Arkansas’s Republican senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman, were split on the bill. Cotton voted against the bill, while Boozman supported it. Cotton, through his press office, sent Talk Business & Politics the following statement:

“I regret that the Senate farm bill, unlike the House version, includes no real reforms of the food-stamp program, in part because I was not allowed a vote on my amendment that imposed new work requirements on adult food-stamp users and prevented illegal aliens from getting food stamps.  And I also wasn’t allowed votes on my amendment to repeal the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. regulation or my amendment to allow Arkansas fish farmers to protect their stock against predatory birds. The Senate should have a more open process, especially for these common-sense ideas. Looking ahead, I will continue working with my colleagues and Arkansas producers to correct this missed opportunity for both welfare reform and better policies for Arkansas farmers.”

Boozman said in a statement the bill wasn’t perfect, but he ultimately decided to support it.

“I want to congratulate Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow on passing a bipartisan farm bill through the Senate. We are one step closer to providing certainty and predictability to Arkansas’s farmers and ranchers who are experiencing the most fragile farm economy since the 1980’s farm crisis. I was pleased to see the process move forward. However, I have serious concerns about provisions that were included at the last minute that have the potential to negatively impact farmers in Arkansas and across the country. I am committed working with my colleagues to address these concerns, so that the final bill ensures all farmers and ranchers are able to compete on a level playing field in the global marketplace.”

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.The current bill will expire in September. If a compromise cannot be reached, an extension of the current bill can be voted on.

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