Congress has voted for the Farm Bill with a lot of bipartisan support. This was, in part, spurred by pressure from farmers suffering because of President Trump’s ongoing trade war with China.
In a 386-47 vote, the House approved a bill that allocates billions of dollars in subsidies to US farmers, legalizes hemp, bolsters farmers’ markets, supports US seed banks, and rejects stricter limits on food stamps pushed by House Republicans. President Trump will most likely sign this bill soon.
The Senate Passed Legislation In An 87-to-13 Vote
Congressional negotiators said they faced demands with completing the bill from ranchers and farmers who have seen steep drops in commodities prices as a result of the trade dispute with China.
“The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is great news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords,”
– Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue
Still, the bill has faced opposition. Conservative Republicans, one of two farmers in the Senate and a member of the AC voted against the bill. Every Senate Democrat supported the Farm Bill.
“I’m very disappointed the conferees decided to expand the loopholes on farm subsidies,” Grassley said before the vote. “I’ve been trying to make sure the people who get the subsidies are real farmers. … I’ve been trying for three years, and it gets worse and worse and worse.”
Will The Farm Bill Make Cuts To Food Stamps?
Cuts to food stamps are not in the bill. The most controversial element of the farm bill has been the different House and Senate approaches to food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The House Republicans’ farm bill would have forced states to impose work requirements for food stamps on older workers, those aged 49 to 59, as well as parents with children ages 6 to 12. According to an estimate by Mathematica Policy Research, those proposals would result in benefits cuts for up to 1.1 million households, although conservatives and Republicans contest those numbers.
The Farm Bill (Final Version)
The final version of the farm bill made none of those changes. The farm bill requires Democratic support to get the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate, and those cuts are not in the final package, Roberts has confirmed.
Liberal groups have cheered the news:
“The negotiators appear to have achieved a bipartisan compromise that maintains and modestly strengthens SNAP, ensuring that millions of struggling Americans will continue to be able to count on SNAP to help them put food on the table.”
– Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a statement.
Farm Bill SNAP Revisions
The bill includes SNAP revisions, although they won’t shrink individual benefits. The final bill does include several new changes to the SNAP program, though none will restrict families’ food stamp benefits, according to congressional aides.
The National Accuracy Clearinghouse would prevent individuals from receiving food stamp benefits in multiple states. The final farm bill also eliminates an awards program that gave states up to $48 million a year in federal funding for high performances related to program access and payment accuracy.
The projected savings from these changes will be plowed back into food banks and other nutrition assistance programs, aides said.
Congress is not binding the White House on food stamps. The Trump administration has signaled its intention to cut food stamps without approval from Congress, and the farm bill does not bind the White House’s hands, according to congressional aides. The Agriculture Department has already floated, weakening the waivers it gives states to suspend some food-stamp work requirements temporarily.
Some Expanded Farm Subsidies
The Farm Bill mirrors at least some provisions in the farm bill passed by House Republicans, expanding some federal agricultural subsidies to nieces, nephews, and first cousins of farmers — even if those relatives do not directly work on the farm.
The Environmental Working Group, which tracks federal farm subsidies, has criticized this provision as a wasteful giveaway. Congressional Republicans argued the expansion would encourage more people to be involved in farming.
No Additional Impact On The Deficit
At close to $1 trillion a year, the farm bill’s price tag is high. But the bill’s drafters used the baseline set by the Congressional Budget Office under existing spending levels of $867 billion over the next ten years, meaning it will not increase the federal deficit from prior projections.
The Bill Also Provides Permanent Funding For Veteran & Minority Farmers
This will provide permanent funding for farmers’ markets and local food programs. The final farm bill provides stable funding for several programs Congress was funding temporarily, five years at a time. These include promotional funds for local farmers’ markets, research funds for organic farming, and money for organizations working on training the next generation of farmers at a time when experts have raised concerns about the aging of the industry.
Conservation Program Preserved
The House Republican bill had proposed merging the Conservation Stewardship Program. Essentially, the program pays farmers to strengthen conservation efforts into another branch of the Agriculture Department. The program will survive under the final version of the bill, aides said.
The farm bill legalizes the production of hemp and hemp seeds, including feminized hemp seeds. Hemp is a form of cannabis with lower THC levels than marijuana. As such, the Farm Bill has opened the door for hemp farmers and US seed banks to thrive. Analysts told CNBC that hemp could grow into a $20 billion industry by 2022.