On June 10, by a vote of 66 to 27, the Senate easily passed a five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill, sending it to the House, where it now faces an uncertain fate.
Officially known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, the legislation sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and expired in 2012. Congress approved a partial extension on January 1 to continue funding for certain programs.
The Senate version of the Farm Bill would end direct and countercyclical payments to farmers, which account for most current commodity spending. Instead, it would create an “adverse market payments” program to provide support for farmers when prices fall below a historical marker. It would also establish a revenue-protection program to compensate farmers for losses not covered by crop insurance. The bill requires participants to meet soil and water conservation standards and reduces support for farmers earning more than $750,000 annually.
While the version that the House will consider differs significantly from the Senate bill in many of these areas, the biggest sticking point is over funding for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which, when combined with other nutrition programs, accounts for about 80 percent of Farm Bill spending. The Senate measure would trim SNAP by $4 billion, while the House bill would cut it by $20.5 billion (about a quarter of the current level) and make it harder for some people to qualify for the program. In recent years, participation in SNAP has increased dramatically, reaching record levels. In 2012, the program cost almost $80 billion ― twice the amount of five years ago.
The House is expected to take up the Farm Bill this week, and lawmakers from farm states are lobbying their colleagues to support it; however,the House version is likely to lose votes from both liberal Democrats who think the bill’s food stamp cuts are too high and conservative Republicans who think they are too low. Meanwhile, the White House is threatening to veto the bill if the House version reaches the President’s desk. The Administration released a statement calling food stamps “a cornerstone of our Nation’s food assistance safety net” and arguing that the House should make deeper cuts to farm subsidies instead.
For in-depth background on SNAP and other Federal nutrition programs, see the December 2010 Congressional Digest on “Child Nutrition.”