Farm Bureau Leader and Democrats Were Wrong: House Clears Food Stamp Cutting Bill

September 19, 2013 03:16 PM

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Major victory for House conservatives; defeat for House Democrats who voted against initial farm bill attempt

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Both American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman and most House Democrats predicted Republicans would not have the votes to clear a measure cutting $39 billion over ten years from food stamp funding. Both of them were wrong as House conservatives scored a victory, approving the nutrition bill (HR 3102) on a 217-210 vote, brushing aside attempts by Democrats to woo enough Republicans with large food aid caseloads in their districts or anxiety about the impact on veterans. Only fifteen Republicans opposed the reductions.

The passage now will lead to an eventual farm bill conference. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said before the vote that the House would go to conference on the broader farm bill "as soon as we can" after passage. He said the Senate will likely need to re-appoint its farm bill conferees.

Formal negotiations on the farm bill likely won't begin before October. The House first needs to merge the nutrition bill with the agriculture-only farm bill (HR 2642) that passed in July, and that is expected to come via a rule that the House could consider as early as next week. Upon clearing that rule, the merged bill would be sent to the Senate, where it will be easily rejected, but the process of appointing conferees would begin again. While the Senate has already appointed conferees, Boehner noted that the Senate would have to repeat the process. This makes calls by at least one commodity group and some Democratic members of House to name farm bill conferees premature at best.

Conservatives said the food stamp vote sends a political and policy message Senate farm bill negotiators should heed: SNAP must be reformed. But it did not take long for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to say the message will not resonate in the Senate. Reid said, "We have tried to create a safety net so these people have at least the basics of being able to have a meal during the day. House Republicans are determined to gut the nutrition assistance programs in the name of austerity, even though nine out of 10 recipients are families with children, senior citizens or people with disabilities."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, adamantly opposed the legislation. The proposed House changes would reduce 10-year spending on SNAP from $764 billion to $725 billion.

"The arguments you will hear from the other side are just theatrics," said Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.). "We are not talking about eliminating the entire SNAP program. We’re committed to finding solutions that work with the resources we actually have."

"The reforms made by this bill will put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told the House. The goal he said was "to help people when they need it most with what they want most which is a job."

"The wrong policies can destroy a person’s self-identity and lull them into a life of dependence," Cantor said. "The right policies can lift people out of poverty and on a path to independence."

Food stamp funding decision ahead. Some say Senate farm bill conferees will negotiate for a final number between the $4 billion cut in the Senate and the $20.5 billion in the original House farm bill, with Ranking House Ag Committee member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) saying the final cut could be in the $8 billion to $10 billion range, while others have signaled a cut of $10 billion to $12 billion.

More details of House nutrition bill. The House measure would eliminate the ability of states to waive work requirements for single, childless able-bodied SNAP recipients when unemployment is high and encourage states to impose new work requirements on parents of young children. The measure creates state work pilot projects that would allow states to receive half of the savings they achieve by reducing SNAP spending. The money could be used by a state for priorities unrelated to SNAP. States that do not impose new work requirements under the pilot program would lose all federal matching funds for their SNAP employment and job training programs. The revised bill also keeps a provision from the original House Agriculture Committee’s nutrition section that would no longer allow states to qualify people for SNAP based on non-cash aid or services they receive from other programs for low-income people. Only people who receive cash aid from state general assistance programs, the federal Supplemental Security Income program and the federal welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would receive SNAP benefits.

Importantly, the House measure's 2016 expiration date would serve to delink nutrition assistance from future farm bills. Nutrition programs would have to be re-authorized in 2016, two years ahead of the rest of the farm bill.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the two most significant provisions of the bill would result in nearly 4 million people losing eligibility for food stamps in FY 2014. The latest data showed that 47.76 million Americans were receiving food stamps as of June.

Comments: House farm-state Democrats likely erred in voting against the initial House farm bill, which had $20.5 billion in food stamp funding cuts. Now they are faced with a strengthened House Republican hand going into the farm bill conference, and will likely have to accept a final figure above the $8 billion to $10 billion figure Peterson has indicated.

If the House and Senate cannot reach an accord on nutrition funding, many nutrition programs would likely continue at current spending levels under other bills to keep federal agencies funded into the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. The two chambers are working on a short-term measure that would fund agencies through mid-December at current levels, giving lawmakers time to negotiate spending levels for the remainder of the year.



Lucas Statement on House Passage of Nutrition Reform Bill 

Today, Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma issued the following statement after the House of Representatives passed HR 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 by a vote of 217-210.


"I remain committed to getting a five-year farm bill on the books this year. Today's vote was another step toward that goal. The House passed a bill that makes common-sense reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that encourages and enables work participation, closes program loopholes, and eliminates waste, fraud and abuse while saving the American taxpayer nearly $40 billion. SNAP serves an important purpose to help Americans who are struggling, so it is equally important that we ensure the program is working in the most effective and efficient way. I look forward to continuing conversations with my House and Senate colleagues as we move toward a farm bill conference."



USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following statement on the House vote on nutrition assistance:


"Today's vote was a highly partisan step that does nothing to promote a bipartisan, comprehensive Farm Bill and stands no chance of becoming law. The harmful plan championed today by House leadership would deny critical nutrition assistance for millions of Americans, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work. The Senate has passed a bipartisan Farm Bill two years running. Now it's time for House leadership to do their part by appointing conferees as soon as possible and completing the comprehensive bill that farmers, ranchers and rural Americans deserve."


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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