BY ANGELINA MARTIN
Both the U.S. Senate and the House have passed their respective versions of the 2018 Farm Bill and are expected to meet soon to iron out differences in the two pieces of legislation.
By just two votes, the House of Representatives on June 21 passed its version of the farm bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, that renews protections for farmers across the country, but also includes tougher conditions for recipients of food stamps.
The Senate passed its version of the bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 28. The Senate’s bill provides a dairy risk management program, sees an increase in conservation funding and expands high speed internet access to rural communities.
The House’s $867 billion GOP-backed measure covering farm and food policy legislation passed 213-211, including a “yea” vote from Congressman Jeff Denham, who serves as a member on the Committee on Agriculture.
“We must protect our farmers and farmland to keep the Central Valley productive for future generations,” Denham said. “This bill protects the Valley’s interests and will help keep our ag industry on a path towards continued expansion and success.”
As one of the top producing agricultural areas in the nation, the Central Valley produces more than $6 billion worth of food in just Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties alone. The 2018 House farm bill includes provisions to support farmers through maintained crop insurance programs, investment in working-lands conservation, improved programs for specialty crops including research, block grants, technical assistance and marketing and promotion programs, and a new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program to protect the health of our nation’s livestock sector.
The bill originally failed to pass the House just a month ago, as the most divisive elements of the legislation include new, stricter work rules for able-bodied adults in the food stamp program, which provides an average of $125 per month in grocery money to 42.3 Americans. Under the new farm bill, adults will have to spend 20 hours per week either working of participating in a state-run training program to receive benefits.
Many states, Democrats argued, do not have the ability to scale up case management or training programs to this extent and as a result, they believe thousands of low-income adults could lose benefits.
Republicans believe the plan is a way to make low-income adults more self-sufficient, ensuring the government is investing in the nation’s workforce and giving SNAP recipients the tools and guidance to put themselves on a trajectory for economic mobility.
With farming income on the decline over the past few years, the bill also takes care to provide support for farmers with a strengthened safety net. The bill authorizes and restores funding for trade promotion and market development tools while maintaining authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by unfair foreign trading practices.
The Senate’s bill easily passed by a vote of 86-11 and includes $867 billion five-year plan with a sweeping array of programs ranging from nutrition assistance and farm subsidies to rural development and agricultural research. Unlike the House’s bill, it avoids the subject of work restrictions.
Key differences between the two bills have set up possible contentious discussion between lawmakers, who will be responsible for combining the two versions of the bill into one. The House and the Senate have until the end of September to come up with a compromise, which will then be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.