After weeks of negotiations hinging not just on differences over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but also on immigration policy, the House of Representatives has passed its version of a new Farm Bill on a 213-211 vote. The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 would replace the current Agricultural Act of 2014 when it expires at the end of September. The $867 billion bill includes stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients that have proven controversial.
Many in the food retail and agriculture industries are responding positively to the bill’s passage.
“Passage of the House Farm Bill was a critical next step in the reauthorization of this important legislation and ensuring that a strong public-private partnership between retailers and the federal government in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is maintained,” said Greg Ferrara, National Grocers Association EVP of advocacy, public relations and member services. “The voice of the independent grocer was clearly heard through the grassroots efforts of our members as the bill included key priorities, such as the extension of the temporary prohibition of processing fees on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) transactions, the protection of highly sensitive store-level SNAP redemption data, and expansion of the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. NGA extends our thanks to U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (TX-11) for his diligent efforts to pass a Farm Bill, and we look forward to continuing our work with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow as they move forward with their work on the Farm Bill.”
“FMI appreciates the work U.S. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and the Committee have done over the past few years holding dozens of hearings on SNAP policy in order to craft H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018,” said Hannah Walker, senior director, technology and nutrition policy for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), in a statement. “The legislation offers a permanent ban on EBT processing fees and protects the privacy of our non-publicly traded retailer members. H.R. 2 maintains many of the efficiencies within SNAP that have helped keep costs down and improves SNAP retailer provisions.
“FMI and its retail members are committed to the public-private partnership we uphold with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a facilitator of the SNAP program. We look forward to being a resource to Congress as the Farm Bill moves through the Senate, and we’ll continue to remind members of Congress how jobs, wages and SNAP participant data affect each state. Our partnership has created tremendous efficiencies, fraud reductions and cost savings in the program over the past several decades.
“The grocery store serves as an area’s economic and social hub, providing safe affordable food and jobs while investing in local communities all across America.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also expressed optimism as the Farm Bill moves forward.
“I applaud Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for their diligence and hard work in passing their 2018 Farm Bill through the House of Representatives,” Perdue said. “American producers have greatly benefited from the policies of the Trump Administration, including tax reforms and reductions in regulations, however a Farm Bill is still critically important to give the agriculture community some much-needed reassurance. No doubt, there is still much work to be done on this legislation in both chambers of Congress, and USDA stands ready to assist with whatever counsel lawmakers may request or require.”
American Soybean Association (ASA) President John Heisdorffer, a soybean farmer from Keota, Iowa, urged the Senate to pass its version of the bill as well.
“Farmers need the long-term certainty and stability that passing a new five-year Farm Bill will provide,” he said. “Right now, the economic future of our industry is clouded by low crop prices and farm income, and by volatility in foreign markets. We call on the Senate to follow suit and pass its version of the farm bill next week so Congress can complete the 2018 Farm Bill in July.”
“With key programs including crop insurance, farm support programs, and export promotion funding for market development programs on the table, ASA urges Congressional leaders to continue pushing forward for final approval.”
Religious, environmental organizations oppose bill
Organizations outside the food retail and agriculture industry are expressing concerns about the impact the bill could have on low-income consumers and the environment.
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, is among those protesting the bill.
“Speaker Ryan and House Republicans revealed their true colors by voting to take food off the tables of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers. H.R.2 cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for millions of people and creates a complex government bureaucracy to enforce punitive and unreasonable work requirements,” she said. “It is shocking that the GOP would choose to undermine one of our most effective anti-poverty programs. This comes exactly six months after passing a tax overhaul that benefits the wealthiest in our nation. Our faith values tell us that no one deserves to go hungry, no matter a person’s circumstance.
“Fortunately, the Senate has chosen to maintain bipartisan negotiations,” Campbell continued. “In the process, the committee created a balanced bill that Network can support. H.R.2 is a hyper-partisan bill trying to hold together the fractured Republican party. We affirm the 20 Republicans who voted against it. Now, the Senate needs to take the lead for the good of our nation. As Congress moves toward conference, the contrast couldn’t be starker: a harmful, partisan bill and a bipartisan bill for the common good. We urge lawmakers to reject proposed changes to SNAP in H.R.2.”
Environmental organization Friends of the Earth also voiced its strong displeasure with the bill, calling it a “disaster” for the health of people and the environment.
“The bill is a massive handout to corporate agriculture and factory farms that pollute our air, water and soil. This shameful bill will slash nutrition and conservation programs and weaken essential protections that safeguard public health and our environment and regulate toxic pesticides,” the organization said in a statement.
“This GOP Farm Bill props up pesticide industry profits at the expense of children’s health, farmworkers and the environment. It slashes conservation programs that help farmers shift away from pesticide-intensive farming, weakens the organic program, and stops state and local governments from protecting their communities from harmful pesticides. It allows the chemical industry to bypass important environmental protection laws and spray toxic pesticides without regard for our waterways or for endangered and threatened species.”