The House Rules Committee will devote Tuesday and Wednesday to the 2018 farm bill as members plow through a long list of amendments, raising the possibility of heated debate before it faces a floor vote later this week.
At the Tuesday afternoon session, the panel has scheduled a general discussion from House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas and ranking member Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota on the five-year farm bill, which would set policy for nutrition, conservation, crop insurance and other programs. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
They are expected to offer sharply different views on the bill, with debate likely to focus on Conaway’s push to strengthen work requirements for people who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Conaway moved the bill out of committee on April 18 with a party-line vote of 26-20. Democrats have largely not participated in the bill-writing, saying that Conaway’s approach left them out of the process and his work requirements would result in kicking low-income people off SNAP.
The Rules Committee is scheduled at 3 p.m. Wednesday to plow through more than 100 amendments, some of which are expected to delve into traditionally thorny issues such as overhauling the U.S. sugar program and banning SNAP recipients from using their benefits to buy sugary drinks. One amendment offered by GOP Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas would delay consideration of listing the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The amendment is a perennial rider in an array of legislation.
Most of the amendments address SNAP, payment limits for farm and crop insurance, and forestry issues. Lawmakers continued to file amendments through Monday, well past the Friday deadline.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon is the only Democrat to offer amendments on his own, although he and other Democrats teamed up with Republicans for 13 bipartisan proposals. GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska withdrew his proposal for Rural Utilities Service loan and grant programs to establish a fully searchable database for applicants seeking information.
SNAP will be front and center, however, because it will account for 77 percent of all farm bill spending, and the idea of work as a tool for escaping poverty resonates with Republicans. Democrats say many able-bodied SNAP recipients work but still need federal assistance because of low pay and fluctuating weekly work hours.
The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would cost $868 billion over a decade.
Conaway spent the weekend trying to win over Republicans who are undecided or leaning toward voting against the legislation. Most Democrats are expected to vote against the bill. They oppose provisions that would retool and expand food stamp work requirements to able-bodied adults ages 18 to 59 who are not parents of children age 6 and younger.
Democrats and anti-poverty advocates say SNAP participants and states will be buried in paperwork because the proposed farm bill would create another level of bureaucracy, requiring monthly certification that affected adults are meeting the 20-hour work or training threshold or have valid reasons for exemption.
The legislation also would end states’ use of broad-based categorical eligibility that allows people to access SNAP if they receive services but not cash from the federal welfare program, allows states flexibility in considering an applicant’s assets and enables states to consider people for SNAP enrollment who make 200 percent of the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that would be $49,200 in gross annual income. The bill would set the maximum level at 130 percent of poverty, which is $31,980 in gross income for a family of four.
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