NFU: SNAP Squabble Jeopardizes Timely Passage of Farm Bill
The federal Farm Bill has historically been a bipartisan effort. Agricultural issues are typically a unifying force in Congress – everyone eats food every day, so it is easy to agree that everyone should support the farmers and ranchers that produce that food.
The 2018 farm bill negotiations, however, are trending in a more partisan direction, with the House Committee on Agriculture split along party lines. The main point of contention is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps, which has served as the nation’s primary nutritional safety net for the past fifty-some years. In addition to helping millions of American families meet their food needs, the program also accounts for the largest fiscal component of the farm bill, claiming approximately 80 percent of spending.
Because of its hefty price tag, SNAP is often the focus of cost-cutting during the farm bill drafting process. In fact, the last farm bill was significantly delayed due to disagreements over nutrition assistance eligibility and spending. (The final legislation ultimately slashed $8 billion from the program.)
It seems as though those disagreements have not been fully resolved, as similar disputes have been holding up talks in the House. According to POLITICO, House Republicans are proposing far stricter work requirements and income limits, excluding an estimated 1 million participants from the program. Though this would cut $20 billion from benefits allocated to participants, it would only save $7 billion, as the move would require an additional $13 billion for associated administrative expenses, including “a massive expansion of state education and training programs.”
The focus on work requirements for SNAP is largely misguided. There are already strict rules in place, allowing able-bodied adults without dependents to only receive benefits for 3 months in 3 years if they do not meet work requirements. As a result, 79 percent of participating adults are working, looking for work, or cannot work due to a disability, while most others are full-time caretakers for children or relatives with disabilities. Attempts to eliminate fraud are similarly misplaced – with just 1.3 percent money lost to underground trafficking, SNAP continues to have one of the lowest fraud rates for federal programs.
It should also be noted that SNAP benefits are fairly meager. The average individual SNAP participant receives $125.99 in benefits monthly, while the average household receives $254.38. That comes out to about $1.40 per meal. According to a North Carolina State University and Union of Concerned Scientists study, that “only covers 43-60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines for what constitutes a healthy diet.”
In any event, should members of the Agriculture Committee fail to reconcile their differences in a timely manner, passing the Farm Bill in 2018 could be in jeopardy. With a great deal left to negotiate ahead of the September 30th deadline, many farmers and ranchers are worried that they’ll be left without critical support come October, a particularly frightening thought considering the bleak state of the farm economy. On the bright side, even as talks stall in the House, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, says that the committee has been hard at work on their own negotiations and could release a draft as early as April.
Learn more about the 2018 Farm Bill and how to advocate for its passage here.