House begins consideration of farm bill
by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on June 18 began consideration of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, the farm bill. The bill’s co-sponsors, Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking member of the committee, urged members of the House to pass the farm bill with few amendments. Bill managers sought to have the legislation sent to a conference committee so negotiators from the Senate and the House may hammer out a common farm bill, secure the support of both houses and send it to the president for his signature.
Mr. Lucas asserted the FARRM Act is the most reform-minded bill in decades.
“It repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining, and consolidating more than 100 government programs,” he said. “It reforms the SNAP program for the first time since the welfare reforms of 1996. And, it makes tremendous reforms to farm programs.”
Mr. Lucas said the farm bill would save American taxpayers nearly $40 billion over 10 years. Savings partly would be accomplished by reforming traditional farm programs, including eliminating direct payments to producers, repealing the ACRE program and counter-cyclical payments and substituting in their stead an enhanced crop insurance program.
The House bill and the Senate farm bill, which was passed June 10, were in basic accord with regard to the farm policy reforms and streamlining conservation programs. The disagreement was how to reduce spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Senate bill would reduce SNAP spending about $4 billion over 10 years, while the House bill would cut spending on the nation’s principal food assistance program by $20.5 billion over the same span.
Mr. Lucas said the House bill would reduce spending on SNAP by “ensuring that states, which administer the program, cannot circumvent the law and endanger the integrity of the program. We end the broad-based categorical eligibility loophole that states use to waive the asset and income tests set by Congress. We end the ‘Heat and Eat’ loophole, so states can’t send token $1 checks to increase participants’ benefits. We end state bonuses for responsibly administering SNAP — a practice they should be doing anyway.
“Our reforms also eliminate the practice of advertising, promoting, and recruiting SNAP — tools the administration has used to increase participation. We restrict lottery winners and traditional college students from accessing SNAP. We prevent abuses, such as water dumping to exchange bottles for cash. We require states to use an electronic verification system to confirm an applicant’s immigration status. And, we provide the Secretary of Agriculture more resources to prevent trafficking and improve the quality of SNAP-approved stores. All of these reforms to SNAP ensure that families and individuals who qualify for benefits receive them.”
Mr. Peterson said the farm bill was a compromise between commodities and regions, and urban and rural members.
“I didn’t get everything I wanted; Chairman Lucas didn’t get everything he wanted but that’s how the legislative process is supposed to work,” Mr. Peterson said.
On the contentious issue of reducing spending on SNAP, Mr. Peterson said, “A lot of attention has been given to the bill’s cuts to nutrition programs, more than $20 billion over 10 years. Personally, I would prefer to update the income and asset limits in the SNAP program so we don’t have these situations where bordering states use different eligibility requirements, but the support wasn’t there for that.
“The cuts to nutrition spending have received most of the attention but we were able to provide additional support for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, increase funding for the Community Food Projects, with a focus on low-income communities and provide more resources to help U.S.D.A.’s anti-trafficking efforts.
“While I think it’s ridiculous to cut hundreds of billions of dollars, as some members have called for, it’s also just not realistic to refuse to cut one penny from these programs. I do believe that we can make some reasonable, responsible reforms and, at the end of the day, find some middle ground that will allow us to complete our work on this bill.”