U.S. House clears farm bill, with major food stamps changes

Washington | Reuters — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a massive Republican farm bill with changes to the government food stamps program that make it unlikely to become law in this form.

The Senate is considering its own farm bill with no major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) used by more than 40 million Americans, or about 12 per cent of the total U.S. population.

The House passed the $867 billion farm bill in a 213-to-211 vote, earning the support of some conservative Republicans who helped defeat it in May after its renewal became entangled in an unrelated debate over immigration (all figures US$).

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Farm bills are massive, providing funding for diverse programs including food aid, crop subsidies, rural development, conservation and efforts to stem the opioid crisis in rural communities.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday hailed the House bill’s passage, saying a farm bill is “critically important to give the agriculture community some much-needed reassurance.”

Kevin Skunes, a farmer at Arthur, N.D. and president of the U.S. National Corn Growers Association, said Thursday the House bill “maintains a robust crop insurance program, ensuring it continues to be a viable risk management tool for farmers across the country.”

The NCGA’s focus, he said, now turns to the Senate and “possible efforts to further strengthen the farm safety net, making it more equitable for our nation’s corn growers, as they bring the Senate agriculture committee’s farm bill to the floor.”

The last U.S. farm bill came into effect in 2014, two years behind schedule, after extensive congressional negotiations and partisan fights over food stamps.

The Republican SNAP proposals in the current farm bill would expand the number of non-disabled individuals subject to work requirements by raising the top age to 59 from 49 and including more people caring for school-age children. It would also put new limits on state governors’ ability to waive work requirements in economically depressed areas.

Democrats opposed the farm bill, which typically gets bipartisan support, due to the proposed SNAP changes. The Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority and passing most legislation requires 60 votes, is working on its own bipartisan version of the legislation.

Rebeca Romero Rainey, CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said Thursday that despite “sharp partisan differences” on nutrition and other programs, the organization believes “a bipartisan compromise can eventually be reached by Congress as the House and Senate bills move forward.”

On top of the House bill’s commodity price protections and a “strong” crop insurance program, she said, the association also supports the bill’s increase for guaranteed farm loan limits, to $1.75 million from $1.39 million.

Reporting for Reuters by Amanda Becker; additional reporting by Mark Weinraub. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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