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Perdue’s Farm Bill Principles: Strong on Crop Insurance, Link Work With Food Assistance

The 2018 farm bill, while helping “those truly in need” to get enough food, should “support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The recommendation, part of the USDA’s farm bill principles, echoed Perdue’s calls for stricter limits on food stamps for able-bodied adults unless they work or take part in job-training or workfare programs.

The recommendations, which run four pages, maintain that an innovative crop insurance program will allow farmers to manage risk; that voluntary land stewardship programs should retire “more environmentally sensitive acres”; that the USDA should reduce regulatory burdens while ensuring new farm and food technologies are safe; that the U.S. should be in the vanguard of ag research; and that rural America needs reliable and affordable high-speed internet services.

The list of principles did not mention President Trump’s proposals for massive cuts to both federally subsidized crop insurance and food stamps, the country’s largest anti-hunger program. Nor did it take sides on suggestions by environmentalists that in exchange for federal support, farmers should be required to do more to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality. Early this month, Trump told the largest U.S. farm group, “I’m looking forward to working with Congress to pass the farm bill, on time, so that it delivers for all of you. And I support a bill that includes crop insurance.”

Titled the “2018 Farm Bill and Legislative Principles,” the relatively brief document was the first attempt in years by an administration to guide the drafting of a farm bill by issuing a printed list of ideas. Farm-state lawmakers fiercely protect their prerogatives in writing the panoramic legislation. At one time, there was a dark-humored joke about White House farm bills being dead before arrival on Capitol Hill. The Trump White House has acknowledged that Congress will take the lead this year, too.

“These principles will be used as a road map. They are our way of letting Congress know what we’ve heard from the hardworking men and women of American agriculture,” said Perdue. “While we understand it’s the legislature’s job to write the farm bill, USDA will be right there providing whatever counsel Congress may request or require.”

Perdue has suggested that the farm bill should clamp down on waivers that allow states to provide food stamps beyond the usual 90-day limit for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) unless they work at least 80 hours a month or spend an equal amount of time in workfare or job training. Waivers are allowed during periods of high unemployment or when jobs are hard to find. The White House proposed last May to set a higher threshold for unemployment rates. It was part of a proposed 25% cut in food stamp funding over a decade.

The administration also proposed a 36% cut in crop insurance, including the end of premium subsidies for the so-called harvest price option, which has been criticized as a windfall for farmers. Crop insurance, worth nearly $8 billion a year, is the largest USDA farm support.

A veteran farm lobbyist said the set of recommendations “sharpen the ax for major SNAP [food stamps] cuts while amazingly not even mentioning world food security or food aid. Farm and commodity lobbyists need to double down on the message to keep SNAP whole, or we are not likely to get a farm bill this year, or maybe for several years to come.” The House defeated a farm bill for the first time ever in 2013 when conservative Republicans insisted on the largest cuts in food stamps in a generation.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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