Farm bill goes down as Freedom Caucus votes against it
The House farm bill would impose stricter work requirements on between 5 million and 7 million participants in SNAP, still known to many as food stamps, and largely keeps farm policy — like commodity supports and crop insurance — status quo.
Stricter work requirements, however, are seen as having no chance at passage in the Senate.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts has repeatedly said the upper chamber will not be making big changes to SNAP, in part because they need 60 votes to get a farm bill through the Senate, which means the bill must be bipartisan. He and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) could unveil their version of the farm bill as soon as this month.
A partisan farm bill is a departure from past tradition, when a coalition of moderate lawmakers from rural and urban America came together to support the agricultural economy and some 40 million people who now get help buying groceries.
Negotiations between Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson broke down in March, largely due to Republicans’ plan to tighten eligibility for SNAP, require that able-bodied adults without dependents work at least 20 hours or week or enroll in a state education and training program, and pour billions into such programs.
Critics have questioned this approach because there’s no evidence that the training programs help lift people out of poverty.
Conaway is pursuing restrictions on SNAP recipients while at the same time including provisions that allow farms to collect billions more subsidies.
The juxtaposition has been excoriated by conservative think tanks, taxpayer watchdog groups and environmentalists that have long pushed for reining in payouts to farmers, even in times of downturns.
“Not only is it terrible optics for Republicans, it’s also morally indefensible,” Caroline Kitchens, federal affairs manager and a policy analyst with the R Street Institute, said.
Commodity subsidies — which total between $5 billion to $8 billion each year — are primarily sent to growers when commodity prices or average revenue drops.
The House proposal would make it easier for some farm operations to break through existing subsidy limits, including by making additional family members eligible for up to $125,000 in payments each year.
Conaway has defended these changes as recognizing that many are “cross-generational.”
Also under the bill, conservation programs would be cut by nearly $800 million over a decade, angering environmental groups.
The farm bill, which dates back to the 1930s, was last reauthorized in 2014 and is set to expire Sept. 30. Congress has the option of extending that legislation.