Both chambers of Congress have passed versions of the 2018 Farm Bill and are now moving the bills to conference committee. As farmers and advocates in the Northeast assess the bills, deliberations are expected to be most contentious over nutrition assistance program provisions.
On Wednesday, the House approved sending the Farm Bill to conference committee. The Senate was expected to complete such action by next week. The House Speaker and minority leader appointed 47 members to sit with yet unchosen Senators to resolve differences in the two versions.
Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives Senior Dairy Policy Advisor Bob Gray says the unwieldy number of conferees could hamper consensus. He expects SNAP, also known as food stamp, work requirements backed by Republicans including New York’s John Faso of the 19th district to be the most contentious part of negotiations. “This issue about the SNAP work requirements will be a major issue because the Senate did not include stricter work requirements for SNAP. So that’ll be a bone of contention.”
Gray finds there are no major differences in the dairy provisions between the two bills. “There’s not all that many differences between them but there are some provisions that the Senate has and that the House has that we would like to see reconciled that would be more favorable to dairy farmers.”
Agrimark Economist Bob Wellington says both chambers strengthened the Dairy Margin Protection Program, an insurance safety net for dairy farmers when milk prices plummet. “The Senate side in particular is a very very strong bill for farmers. It allows the program to trigger in a lot faster. The question is will there be a Farm Bill or not? It’s really a question of the other food stamp and other programs where the majority of the money goes to.”
Vermont Foodbank spokesperson Nicole Whalen says the House version of the Farm Bill is draconian. “The House version is a very partisan bill that would cut SNAP benefits significantly. By restricting eligibility many working families would be kicked off the program. It reduces free and reduced meals available to children in schools. Not only does it increase the work requirements it cuts funding to SNAP significantly. It also imposes a harder administrative burden on the program.”
Hunger Solutions New York has called the House version of the Farm Bill “..a serious attack on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).” Director of Public Affairs Sherry Tomaski says the Senate version on the other hand holds SNAP harmless. “The Senate sets the stage for what the Farm Bill ought to be doing with regard to the SNAP program. It holds the program harmless from cuts. It preserves eligibility for all who are eligible. It does not restrict benefits and it will ensure that people in New York state who are food insecure will still have access to the benefits of the SNAP program in all corners of the state.”
Politico reports that the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee may vote on a motion to conference and select members as soon as next week.