September 17, 2013
After a two month-long wait that began with the unprecedented split of the Farm Bill back in July, the House released text of the nutrition title-only Farm Bill (H.R. 3102) yesterday afternoon. The House Rules Committee will debate and approve the rule governing debate and voting on the bill on Wednesday afternoon, with the vote on the House floor coming on Thursday.
Keeping many of the same provisions intact from the comprehensive House Agriculture Committee-passed bill (which failed in the House), the nutrition-only bill maintains and expands the controversial changes to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) approved earlier on the House floor that are now estimated to total nearly $39 billion in cuts (up from $20.5 billion in the House Committee-proposed bill from June), according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
CBO estimates that 3.8 million people would lose their food stamp benefits in 2014, a number that would decline over time if the economy improves. Over the coming decade, CBO estimates that 2.8 million people on average would lose their benefits and nearly a million more would have their benefits reduced.
The majority of these “savings” are the result of millions losing their SNAP benefits through the bill’s changes in eligibility requirements and removal of State authority to streamline eligibility procedures, repeal of State work program waiver authority, and revisions to income deductions from energy assistance program payments.
The bill’s enormous cuts (which are twice the size of those approved by the House Agriculture Committee and nearly 10 times the size of those found in the Senate version of the Farm Bill) and the related policy making aimed at enhanced federal control and tougher eligibility rules, have many, but especially the anti-hunger, poverty, and faith-based communities, gravely concerned for the state of the program and vulnerable populations.
Farm Bill Politics
In addition, the bill proposes to change SNAP from a five-year to a three-year authorization. This provision is designed to weaken and permanently separate the program from the Farm Bill, which is reauthorized every 5 years. Some conservative House Republicans and conservative advocacy organizations have been pushing to separate the nutrition title from the rest of the farm bill, and the new bill would grant that wish.
Farm and commodity groups, and many ,though not all House Republicans from commodity districts, oppose this idea, realizing that it would mean the end of farm bills as they have known them for the past forty years, putting farm programs at high political risk. In a blast from the past, former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole (R-KS) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) editorialized against the proposal to take nutrition out of the farm bill. NSAC has also consistently urged Congress to keep a comprehensive farm bill intact.
The new bill carries the name of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) as the lead sponsor, though it is widely acknowledged that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and his staff put the bill together with little input from the Agriculture Committee. The new provisions added to the bill, which double the size of the cuts, have not been the subject of hearings nor have they been marked up and reported out by a Committee in the House. Rather, they have been put forward directly by the Majority Leader outside of normal legislative procedures.
The sheer size of the proposed cuts, as well as the radical policies that produce the cuts, will result in no Democratic votes for the bill. According to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly, eight of the 24 congressional districts represented by Republicans with the highest poverty rates voted against the most radical of the food stamp amendments during floor consideration of the farm bill back in June. With some moderate Republicans in potentially tight races in 2014 also wanting to vote no, the vote tally is expected to be quite close.
The widespread assumption is that whether the bill passes or fails, the House will in any event appoint its conferees to meet with Senate conferees and start working out the details of a final farm bill reauthorization. While widely assumed, we would just caution readers that nothing in this farm bill process over the past two and a half years has been normal, and nothing should be taken for granted. There have been no definitive statements from House GOP leadership about what action, if any, they will take with respect to a farm bill conference with the Senate.
The House Agriculture Committee ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson (D-MN) had this to say about the pending House nutrition bill yesterday:
Instead of appointing farm bill conferees, the Republican leadership has decided to move forward with an unnecessary and divisive nutrition bill. Even if this bill is defeated, as it should be, I worry the debate will eliminate any remaining goodwill needed to pass a farm bill. The majority is again catering to the extremes of their party, pushing messaging bills to nowhere. It’s time to get serious. If they will just get out of our way, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees can work together and provide farmers, ranchers and consumers the certainty of a five-year farm bill.
Local Food and Healthy Food Access Provisions
The new bill carries over all of the provisions of the nutrition title that was written and adopted by the House Agriculture Committee, as well as amendments to the Committee bill that were adopted on the House floor prior to the House then defeating the bill.
Although the centerpiece of the new bill deals with changes to SNAP, there are several changes that deal with the development of local and regional food systems and healthy food access. These changes remain the same from the House Committee bill (H.R. 1947) and include:
NSAC supports all of these measures with the exception of the last one.
Three of them — the mobile transaction pilot program, the use of SNAP at CSAs, and the HFFI — are also in the Senate-passed farm bill. The Senate bill also includes incentives to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets, but at a significantly higher funding level. NSAC supports the Senate version.
The three Farm-to-School provisions are only in the House bill. NSAC is urging the conferees, if and when they meet, to adopt all three of those provisions in the final bill. We oppose the House provision to do away with the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program.