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SNAP’s the Stickler so Far in the 2018 Farm Bill

The House Agriculture Committee SNAP proposal may not fly, though.

If farmers wonder months from now why the 2018 farm bill isn’t being passed, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments — food stamps — will likely be the culprit.

The House Agriculture Committee — chaired by Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX) — has been working to attach measures including work and work training requirements for able-bodied SNAP recipients. This measure is also supported by the Trump administration. But they haven’t won over Representative Collin Peterson (DFL-MN), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.

“I guarantee you, the federal government cannot do this without screwing it up,” he says. “It’s a waste of money.”

Peterson and others talked about the 2018 farm bill outlook at this week's meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, D.C. 

SNAP Work Requirements

SNAP payments normally consume around 80% of farm bill spending. The $70 billion program has been a target for conservative groups and conservative legislators, who say they want assistance to be a temporary safety net.  

SNAP rules currently require that all recipients meet work requirements unless they are exempt due to age or disability. Children, seniors, and those with disabilities comprise almost two thirds of SNAP participants. USDA rules state that able-bodied adults without dependents who aren’t disabled can only receive SNAP for three months in three years if they do not meet special work requirements.

To be eligible beyond this time limit, these individuals must work at least 80 hours per month, participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or comply with a workfare program.

Hassle Factor

During the Great Recession, though, many states waived these time limits. This would change under what’s been discussed so far in the 2018 farm bill. States would be given federal money to boost workforce training. However, Peterson says it is woefully inadequately.  

“In talking with some workforce training people, they say to do an effective job of job placement or training, you have to have $4,000 to $5,000 per slot,” he says. “What this bill has is $500 more per slot at the most.”

Instead, Peterson sees the mandatory training as a hassle factor to prompt these program recipients to forego SNAP payments. He says it’s unlikely if individuals receiving a small amount—such as $100 per month—will take 80 hours per month job training. “So they won’t get cut off, but they will select off,” says Peterson.

Peterson sees the initial House Agriculture Committee farm bill markup including the SNAP provision as making it out of committee. In the entire House of Representatives, though, it’s another story.

“I’ve talked to leaders of the (House) Freedom Caucus, and they say they will not vote for it because it does not do enough reform,” he says. Peterson estimate that 30 or so Freedom Caucus members and around 20 or so House moderates may vote against a farm bill containing the SNAP proposal. This is on top of nearly all Democrats who will vote against it.

“So, I’m not that worried that it will become law,” says Peterson. “And it’s going no place in the Senate.”

Farm Bill Needed

Peterson says there are more pressing concerns. When the 2014 Farm Bill was passed, grain prices still hadn’t crashed. Now, they are roughly 50% below levels five years ago. “The conditions on which farm policy is crafted is never identical to the previous bill,” says Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS). “The 2014 Farm Bill is now being referred to as the Golden Age of Agriculture. Now, a rough patch is what we are in.”

Farmers are also battling the threat of a trade war this time around. China has threatened to put 25% tariffs on U.S. farm exports in response to President Donald Trump’s concerns including intellectual property theft by China.

“The president has made it clear that some countries like China don’t play by the rules,” says Steve Censky, USDA Deputy Secretary. “His job is protecting American interests. Farmers and ranchers understand that.” Censky acknowledges Trump’s actions have created much anxiety among farmers and ranchers. He adds USDA is considering a wide variety of actions to prop up farm income if trade relations worsen.

Peterson says a better option would be to maintain good trade relations in the first place. “They (USDA) have a Section 32 and they have the CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation),” says Peterson. These entities can be tapped to support farm income and buy surplus commodities if a trade war happens.

This isn’t what farmers really want, though, Peterson says.

“They want markets they have spent years building up and intact and not being screwed up,” he says. “So, giving them some money will not buy them off.”

Roberts concurs.

“We don’t need another subsidy program,” he says. “We need to sell our products.”

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