Thursday, May 16, 2013

House Agriculture Committee Approves Farm Bill, With Nutrition Funding Slashed

Committee Chair Frank Lucas says bill will receive Floor consideration in June...
After spending much of Wednesday locked in debate and votes on amendments in two different sessions, the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the Farm Bill shortly before midnight on a roll call vote of 36-10.  Committee Members also adopted, by voice vote, an en bloc amendment as they passed the 576-page  H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013.  (Above, the Committee in action during the markup)

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) told reporters after the vote that he has received personal assurances from House Republican leaders that they will bring up the bill on the Floor in June.

 The massive $940 billion, five-year measure cuts $40 billion over the next decade by eliminating some programs and reforming others.  It slashes funding for nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps) by $20.5 billion over the same period.  The bill consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, estimated to save another $6 billion.  

In total, the measure repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, ends some direct payments (subsidies), and retools risk management and crop insurance programs, among other items.

Both Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn) said they believe the bill is "balanced," and saluted their colleagues for acting in a bipartisan manner.  Peterson said he hopes a new Farm Bill will be in place before the August recess. 

"No other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government," said Chair Lucas.  "I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved."

"I’m pleased the Committee was able to work together, find some common ground, and advance a five-year farm bill today," Peterson said.  "Needless to say this process has gone on far too long and it is past time to get this bill done."  

The 2008 Farm Bill expired last year, and was extended until next September during the Fiscal Cliff deal, after lawmakers in both chambers failed to agree on new legislation.  Lucas, now in his second term as Chair, authored the previous Farm Bill that the House failed to pass.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved its own version of the Farm Bill after a fairly rapid markup on Tuesday.  Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced on Wednesday that debate will start on the Senate Floor next Monday, May 20.  

The SNAP debate...
The House reduction in SNAP funding was the subject of long and emotional debate earlier on Wednesday, with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) offering an amendment to block the $20.5 billion cut, co-sponsored by eleven colleagues.  It ultimately failed on a roll call vote of 17-27.   

More than 47.5 million Americans were enrolled in SNAP in February, the latest month for which USDA has posted data.  Four Members from both sides of the aisle actually invoked Jesus during the heated argument as the lawmakers discussed poverty, work requirements, and hungry Americans--and two lawmakers even quoted scripture. 

"Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever, we're failing our brothers and sisters," Rep. McGovern finally said before his amendment was shot down. 

The House legislation cuts SNAP by roughly $2 billion annually, for a total of $20.5 billion over ten years.  That is 2.5% of the program off a base of more than $700 billion over ten years.  $11.5 billion of the savings would come from eliminating "broad-based categorical eligibility" at the state level, which allows individuals to automatically receive Food Stamps when enrolled in other government programs.  

$8.69 billion of the savings would come from requiring states to make at least $20 in payments for energy assistance, in order for citizens to be eligible for nutrition assistance.  It is the "first reform" to SNAP since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, according to Chair Lucas.

The government spent more than $6 billion monthly on SNAP in FY 2012, for a total of  $80,401,000,000 between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012.  That was a $2.7 billion increase from the $77,637,000,000 spent in FY 2011. 
A press release issued by Lucas's office after the final vote listed the following bill highlights:


*FARRM saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion.

*FARRM repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs.
*FARRM eliminates direct payments, which farmers received regardless of market conditions.

*FARRM streamlines and reforms commodity policy while also giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk.

*FARRM includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion.

*FARRM consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, improving program delivery to producers and saving more than $6 billion.

*FARRM builds on previous investments to fruit and vegetable production, farmers markets, and local food systems.

*FARRM includes several regulatory relief measures to help mitigate burdens farmers, ranchers, and rural communities face.


*Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 {PDF} 

 *Detailed Summary  {PDF}

 *Photo by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL-3)