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Farm Bill at the Wire; SNAP Work Rules a Big Snag

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Monday, September 17, 2018   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Congress may not be able to finish the farm bill by the end of the month, when the old one expires. One deadlock is a controversial plan to cut access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Josh Protas, vice president for public policy with Jewish hunger-relief group MAZON, said conservative House Republicans are insisting on adding work requirements to eligibility for SNAP - formerly known as food stamps. He said that's not popular even with some Senate Republicans. But House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway of Texas is holding out.

"Farm income is down right now. Agricultural producers are being impacted by the trade wars and tariffs,” Protas said. “So their interests are really being put at risk by those who are trying to make harmful cuts to SNAP."

Conaway and others argue the tough work rules are necessary to push people into employment. Food banks say state experiments have shown almost everyone on SNAP that can work has a job or is looking. They say the work rules don't increase employment, just demand at pantries.

Food banks estimate the House proposal would mean SNAP would provide 9 billion fewer meals over 10 years. Kate Leone, senior vice president for government relations with Feeding America, said the House proposal includes more job training and government commodities for pantries. But she said it's not enough.

"For every one meal that our network of food banks provides, SNAP provides 12,” Leone said. “That gap that would be created is something that we just simply can't make up."

The House farm bill barely passed on a near party-line vote. A Senate version of the bill - without the SNAP work rules - passed 86-11. A conference committee is meeting now, and Protas said it may not be able to hash out the differences in time.

"But time is quickly running out,” Protas said. “Whatever farm bill comes out of the conference committee will need to go to the Congressional Budget Office to be analyzed in terms of its budget impacts. So they're quickly running out of time."

President Donald Trump has tweeted that he prefers the work rules.


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House Bill passed with an overwhelming vote of 94-6, with three abstentions. Its companion, Senate Bill 159, passed unanimously with a vote of 34-0. (Chad Robertson/Adobe Stock)

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