The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill, by a vote of 369-47 yesterday, clearing one of the final hurdles for the bill to become law. The compromise bill was finalized earlier this week and sailed through the Senate on Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 87-13. The final Farm Bill was championed by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN).
The bill includes a number of wins for independent grocers, and industry players and associations are celebrating its passage.
The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) issued the following statement from Hannah Walker, senior director, technology and nutrition policy:
“FMI would like to thank the Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members for their leadership in completing H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, ‘the Farm Bill.’ The bill helps FMI members keep operation costs down and fosters innovation and efficiencies for the future of food retail and its customers.
“The 2018 Farm Bill leverages technology to better serve every customer shopping in our members’ grocery stores. It drives modernization in the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems, while protecting retailers from unfair and predatory interchange and processing fees. FMI is also pleased the Farm Bill encourages creative proposals from retailers who would like to incentivize SNAP customers to buy more fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and whole grains in addition to permanently authorizing the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program.
“This Farm Bill is the product of years of work and collaboration with Agriculture Committee members and their relentless staff to ensure program integrity and technological innovation in SNAP. FMI is excited to move to the next phase of work to implement the new law and helping our members continue to serve SNAP families in their communities.”
The United Fresh Produce Association says that through the Farm Bill, the fresh produce industry secured major victories around increasing access to fresh produce in federal nutrition programs, breaking down trade barriers, focusing additional resources towards research priorities, and combating pest and disease challenges. Overall, the Farm bill represents more than $3 billion in resources and policy changes dedicated to these and other programs targeted by the fresh produce industry.
“United Fresh applauds the House and Senate for the passage of a Farm Bill that includes the priorities of United Fresh and our members,” said Robert Guenther, SVP of public policy for United Fresh. “We thank Congress for approving this legislation and we are proud that it has strong bipartisan and bicameral support. The Agriculture Improvement Act is vital to the ability of the fresh produce industry to ensure Americans have access to nutritious foods. We look forward to the President signing the bill before the conclusion of the 115th Congress.”
The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is applauding Congress for passing legislation that bans processing fees on all Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) transactions and reiterates the current ban on interchange fees from these transactions.
“Convenience stores are critical partners in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, providing essential access to food for SNAP families who may not live near a larger retailer or who shop during non-traditional hours,” said Anna Ready, NACS director of government relations. “NACS commends Congress for passing sensible legislation that will place a ban on all processing fees and emphasizes the ban on interchange fees on SNAP transactions. We are pleased that Congress heeded these concerns and recognized that these fees have a negative impact on SNAP customers.”
In the compromise bill, the main provision impacting the convenience store industry is language that bans processing fees on EBT transactions through 2023 and reiterates the ban on interchange fees. EBT allows a SNAP recipient to authorize transfer of their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received. NACS says it will continue to advocate for a permanent ban on processing fees.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also issued a statement largely praising the bill:
“The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords. This Farm Bill will help producers make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster exports. While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain SNAP recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions, and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities. I commend Congress for bringing the Farm Bill across the finish line and am encouraging President Trump to sign it.”
The Quaker Lobby is applauding the Farm Bill for protecting and strengthening SNAP provisions and for excluding “harsh provisions in the House bill that would have cut people from SNAP who are struggling to find or keep work.”
“Quakers have worked tirelessly for a just bipartisan Farm Bill that ensures SNAP benefits don’t punish people who are still struggling in this economy. By rejecting the draconian House provisions, Congress has done just that,” said Diane Randall, executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). “Right now, SNAP is helping 40 million Americans put food on the table. That is about more than a hot meal. That is about preserving the health and dignity of people in every state. Congress did the right thing.”
The newly passed bill protects and improves SNAP by supporting job training and employment activities proven to be successful, the Lobby adds.
Robert Hensley of Dorsey & Whitney
Robert Hensley is a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, co-chair of the firm’s food and beverage industry group, and co-chair of the Cooperative Law practice group. He represents food and beverage companies, cooperatives and agribusinesses throughout the U.S. He issued the following observations:
“The passage of the $867 billion 2018 Farm Bill doesn’t make many changes to the existing programs, but extends those programs into the future and gives farmers and ranchers some much-needed assurances about the continuation of the programs. There has recently been a good deal of talk in Washington about possibly eliminating the Farm Bill or drastically changing what is contained in the Farm Bill, so providing stability is the key benefit of the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Commodity prices are currently at very low levels, and the support provided by the Farm Bill helps both farmers and their bankers in deciding what the future holds.
“The new Farm Bill reauthorizes and strengthens the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) through 2023 (including allowing farmers to update their yields), improves the dairy safety net, and continues several disaster programs.
“Crop insurance programs remain in place and expands coverage to new crops including fruits, vegetables, hops, and barley. The Marketing assistance loan rate for soybeans is increased by 24% to $6.20 a bushel from $5 per bushel. The Conservation Reserve Program is increased from 24 million acres to 27 million acres.
“The Food Stamp provisions of the Farm Bill remain relatively unchanged despite earlier threats in Congress to cut the program.”