House of Representatives Passes a Farm Bill, which Excludes Nutrition AssistanceThe House of Representatives passed a farm bill Thursday, but with food stamp provisions removed. This is the first time a farm bill passed without the nutrition title since 1973. The nutrition title constituted about 80 percent of the cost of the House bill that had previously failed. Except for the removal of the nutrition title, as just noted, the bill that passed keeps changes from the version that failed last month. The bill passed by a slim margin, 216-208. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 12 Republicans also voted no; six Republicans and five Democrats were not present to vote. What does this mean for beginning farmers, or aspiring beginning farmers? It was potentially disadvantageous for beginning farmers that the bill had been hung up in the House. We reported on beginningfarmers.org on June 22, following the initial failure of the 2013 House bill, that “this is bad news, since the beginning farmer program is one of the many that has been unfunded since the 2007 bill expired last September.” Thus, passage of the House bill increases the likelihood a new farm bill will pass before expiration September 30, which may be good news for beginning farmers.
Generally, the future of the farm bill remains uncertain. As the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reported, either “no one knows, or perhaps those who do know are not talking about it yet.” What is absolutely certain is time is running out. There are only 20 legislative days remaining before the current farm bill extension expires.
Regarding inclusion or exclusion of the nutrition title: the Senate version of the bill, which passed in early June, includes the nutrition title; it is possible the nutrition components of the Senate bill will be included in the final bill. It’s also conceivable the House Agriculture Committee might draft a nutrition-only farm bill. As Chris Clayton reported, writing for DTN The Progressive Farmer, the implications of passing a House bill without the nutrition title might backfire on the deep cuts to food stamps many Republicans are ultimately seeking:
Excerpt: “By culling out nearly $750 billion in cost over 10 years in nutrition programs from the final bill, House Republicans also dropped $20.5 billion in savings from the program and reforms in changing eligibility and enrollment under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While House leaders say they will deal with those SNAP changes later, they may have hamstrung their own negotiators in conferencing with the Senate. After all, the Senate version of the bill, which was passed with bipartisan support, eliminated $4.1 billion from SNAP, a much lower amount.”
A potentially profound change included in the House bill was a provision that removes a long-standing feature of the commodity title, which causes farm commodity law to revert to the farm bills of 1938 and 1949 if a new bill is not passed by a certain time. Instead, the House bill makes the changes made to the commodity title in the 2013 bill permanent, though it does not make the entire farm bill permanent law. In the past, reversion had been viewed as problematic by lawmakers, thus creating incentive to pass new farm bills regularly. If this change is included in the final bill, the aforementioned incentive, would no longer exist.