WASHINGTON — The Senate and House of Representatives, each having passed its version of the farm bill, were selecting from their ranks members who will meet in conference to hammer out differences between the bills and craft common legislation that will be submitted to the two houses, and if passed, be sent on to President Donald Trump for his signature. The conference promises to be contentious, primarily because of differences between the House and Senate bills related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The current farm bill, which authorizes the nation’s principal farm and rural support and nutrition assistance programs, expires on Sept. 30.
The House of Representatives passed its farm bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, on June 21 on a party-line vote of 213 to 211. The bill failed to receive even one Democratic vote because of its imposition of more stringent work requirements on adults receiving SNAP benefits than those already being applied under the current farm act.
The June 21 vote was a second go at passing the legislation. The bill was rejected by the full House on May 18 by a vote of 183 in favor versus 213 against. In that vote, Democrats opposed to the SNAP provisions were joined by several conservative Republican members who voted against the bill in protest of the House leadership’s failure to call votes on immigration reform bills they preferred.
The Senate on June 28 passed a bipartisan farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, by a historically lopsided vote of 86 to 11. It was the largest-ever vote in the Senate in favor of a farm bill. Notably, the Senate bill made only minor revisions to SNAP.
In an article written for farmdoc daily, “2018 Farm Bill: Two Big Steps Forward and the Top Five Issues for Conference,” Jonathan Coppress, Gary Schnitkey and Nick Paulson of the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois and Carl Zulauf of the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at Ohio State University affirmed the No. 1 issue the conference must address is differences over SNAP.
“The problem is not just that the House and Senate took vastly different paths on policy, with very different results, but that the House is operating under partisan and ideological perspectives that differ from those in the Senate; such differences are likely to add to the challenges for negotiations,” the authors said.
The House bill would reduce the number of people receiving SNAP benefits and reduce benefits received per household, while increasing the administrative costs of the program, according to the Congressional Budget Office (C.B.O).
SNAP rules under the current farm act include work requirements applicable to individuals determined capable to work. The House bill would expand the population subject to work requirements by including parents of elementary school-aged children and older adults (50 to 59 years of age). Benefit recipients would be required to work at least 20 hours per week or attend job training for 20 hours per week. The House bill also would narrow the timeframe for individuals to find employment to one month from the current three months.
The C.B.O. estimated the more stringent work requirements would result in 1.2 million fewer people receiving benefits, which would reduce total benefits by $9.2 billion over 10 years. At the same time, the House bill would increase administrative costs for implementing and enforcing the more stringent work requirements, which would include increasing funding for state-run job training programs, by $7.7 billion over 10 years.
The House bill would reduce the number of households currently deemed “categorically eligible” to receive SNAP benefits because they receive other public assistance by about 400,000 and reduce the number of school children receiving access to free school lunches by about 265,000. This, in turn, would reduce SNAP benefits by $5 billion over 10 years, the C.B.O. indicated.
New restrictions on households receiving low-income energy assistance would reduce the number of households receiving SNAP benefits by 560,000 and reduce benefits by $5.2 billion over 10 years.
The Illinois and Ohio State University authors said the Senate bill makes minor revisions to SNAP, including the existing work requirements, at an added cost of $235 million over 10 years for new grants to states, while proposing administrative funding increases for improving the electronic benefit transfer system for SNAP participants and other changes to increase spending for food insecurity assistance (total increase, $562 million). The Senate bill would mostly offset the increases by requiring states to use a national database to prevent duplicative benefits ($588-million reduction over 10 years) and eliminating bonuses to states for performance and error rates ($420 million reduction).