The Farm Bill: Congress’ Christmas gift to America
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on December 12 to pass the $867 billion Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, a bipartisan effort that benefits farmers.
But the biggest item in the bill doesn’t have much to do with growing crops or raising livestock and comes instead with making sure the most vulnerable people in the county have enough food to eat. Some 80% of the cost of the Farm Bill will go toward paying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps.)
About 40 million Americans receive SNAP benefits. In May, Republicans in the House demanded that work requirements for SNAP benefits be enhanced to ensure that more people who receive benefits are either working or training for a job. According to the Congressional Budget Office, had the Republican rules been put into place, an estimated 1.2 million American would have lost SNAP benefits. In some cases, the requirements were severe. For instance, in some cases, if an adult were working a job for 20 hours a week, and lost that job, that adult would then need to land a new 20-hour per week job within three days, or lose SNAP benefits for a year.
The SNAP difference between House Republicans and Democrats prevented the Farm Bill from passing by the September 30 deadline. But after the Democrats regained the House in the November election, it became clear that Democrats would not back down. They could take up the bill in the new Congress next year, with a weakened Republican caucus that could not have forced through the work requirements. Eventually, House Republicans relented.
The Farm Bill does include a couple of reforms, such as the creation of a new National Accuracy Clearinghouse, which is intended to prevent people from receiving SNAP benefits in more than one state at a time. None of the reforms, however, will restrict families from receiving benefits.
The other big category receiving a lot of ink in the 2018 Farm Bill involves subsidies paid to farmers. The bill allows farmers and their children to collect farm subsidies, but it also expands the list of beneficiaries to nieces and nephews, even if they’ve never worked on a farm. Sen.Chuck Grassley, a farmer and member of the Agriculture Committee, was one of only 14 senators to vote against the Farm Bill, and it was because of these subsidies.
Grassley wrote in a news release (bit.ly/FarmBillTRR) “Despite what some of my colleagues may say, this is not about helping nieces or nephews get into farming. Every person who really farms already qualifies for Title 1 payments by themselves without this new gimmick.
“Allowing nieces and nephews to qualify as part of large farm entities merely allows large farmers to get more subsidies. They just need to hire the right lawyer to structure things in a certain way, and they can receive unlimited taxpayer subsidies.
“For years, the top 10% of farmers have received over 70 percent of the subsidies from the government. That’s only one of the many reasons it’s so hard for young and beginning farmers to get started.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve never heard a single young or beginning farmer tell me that the way to help them is to give more money to the largest farmers.”
Grassley, however, drummed up little support from his colleagues. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation any day now.
There were many other elements of the legislation that will have lasting impacts across the country. Funding for establishing and marketing farmers’ markets was included in the legislation. Funding was also included for research into organic farming and training for new farmers. The bill also provides funding to encourage minority and veteran farmers.
Farmers who have championed the production of hemp should be pleased. The Farm Bill legalizes the production of hemp, which is a strain of cannabis with low levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Supporters say hemp may be used in the manufacture of a wide range of products including food, medicine, fuel, paper, clothing, plastic and building materials.
There is a lot packed into the 800-page bill, and while some of it includes giving money to people who don’t need it, a lot of it involves lawmakers doing what they should do, which is to advance measures that will help farmers, the agricultural sector and Americans in need.