April Segura, of Lincoln, Neb., uses her SNAP benefits to shop at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market in Nebraska. (Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a farm bill package to put up against the Senate’s version of the legislation. But the distance between the House and Senate on food stamp funding leaves much to negotiate before a final farm bill is passed.
The Republican-controlled House passed a bill 217-210, extending the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but making significant cuts by rolling back automatic eligibility programs and opening the way for work requirements for beneficiaries.
“Today our number (of SNAP users) is knocking on the door of 47 million people,” said Iowa Republican Steve King, speaking on the house floor. “This is so that the resources are available to the people who need it, the people who are truly hungry.”
Democrats accused Republicans of ignoring the needs of low-income Americans. "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," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
Passing a nutrition bill in the House was an important procedural step forward for the farm bill, according to University of Nebraska Lincoln ag economist, Brad Lubben.
“The debate now is finally just beginning,” Lubben said.
The House and Senate will now appoint members to negotiate a unified farm bill, but SNAP will remain a major sticking point in those discussions. The House cuts will be hard to reconcile with only $4 billion in cuts over a decade made in the farm bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate in June. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chair of the Senate Ag Committe, said this week that the House bill, "will never see the light of day in the Senate."
“We’re still facing big odds here to get a farm bill wrapped up,” Lubben said. “The reality is no one expects it to get done by September 30.”
That’s when the current farm bill extension expires. But the real deadline is the end of the year when permanent farm legislation passed in the 1940s would take hold, possibly doubling the price of milk.
Sound familiar? It was the so-called "milk cliff" that forced lawmakers to extend the farm bill last year when a complete bill could not get passed. Farmers are hoping for a more conclusive result this time around.