One by one, farm bill conferees from the House and Senate this week laid out the dire situation in farm country and insisted a new farm bill must be in place before the current one expires on Sept. 30.
There still remain some differences to overcome on a range of issues from farm policy and conservation to rural development and research funding. But the biggest challenge will be bridging the divide on vastly different ideologies when it comes to government nutrition programs.
Food assistance is at the heart of every farm bill, claiming about 80 percent of the total budget. It’s the tie that binds in the rural-urban divide on Capitol Hill, but it has long been a tug-of-war in farm bill negotiations.
The issue this year is particularly contentious, with the partisan House bill that would reduce the number of people receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
The debate centers on work or training requirements for able-bodied recipients and the elimination of automatic eligibility to recipients of other assistance programs.
SNAP evolved from just a feeding program to include work supports, incentives and more during the Great Depression, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., chairman of the House subcommittee on nutrition, said.
“It’s time to evolve further so we can serve Americans in a most impactful way that includes a strong work requirement that is paired with meaningful training opportunities,” he said.
“Without question, SNAP remains incredibly important for many Americans. Yet real and ultimate food security only comes from a family-sustaining job,” he said.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said the House bill cuts more than $17 billion from SNAP benefits over 10 years.
“That means that 1.2 million adults will lose benefits due to unrealistic and unproven work schemes,” she said.
It would also mean 400,00 working families will lose benefits, and it would put 265,000 children at risk of losing eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals, she said.
“Just as we should not turn our backs on farmers seeking relief from a downturn in the farm economy, we must not turn our backs on hungry Americans. … (It) would be a disgrace,” she said.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., called the SNAP cuts shameful and a betrayal of the values of the American people.
“What the House did is a rotten deal for poor people, and it would make hunger worse,” he said.
Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Ill., said some people are twisting the SNAP revisions. But food assistance isn’t going away; it is still there to feed youngsters and people who have fallen on hard times.
“All we’re recognizing here is that we have ‘help wanted’ signs in every community, in every state. And we want to say ‘listen, if you’re an able-bodied adult … you can’t sit at home and watch SportsCenter,’” he said.
People who go to work every day and pay taxes want to make sure those taxes don’t go to people who can work as well, he said.
To watch a video of the meeting, visit: www.agriculture.senate.gov