Putting in danger the prospects for a bipartisan farm bill, a House Republican plan to amp up work requirements for recipients of food stamps has stalled progress just before a scheduled late March markup session.
House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., disagree about the Republican draft of the farm bill relating to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan work requirements. The Republican plan would increase SNAP work requirements to recipients as old as 65, up from the current 49. Savings from the change would help fund SNAP education and worker training under the GOP plan, according to a Politico report.
Peterson, speaking to the American Ag Network March 8, said Democrats would likely oppose the draft farm bill during a markup of the legislation now planned for March 20.
Rachel Millard, communications director for the House Agriculture Committee, said in a March 12 e-mail Conaway was “very committed to moving a bipartisan bill.” Millard had no update on specifics of the draft farm bill’s SNAP work requirements or the broader legislation and could not confirm the March 20 markup date reported for the bill.
If House Agriculture Committee Ranking Democrat Peterson isn’t voting for the farm bill, no House Democrats are likely to back it, said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs in Washington, D.C., for Western Growers.
“The single biggest challenge for this farm bill is how to put the votes together to move the bill across the House floor,” said Kam Quarles, vice president of public policy for the National Potato Council. “Certainly they can produce a bill and report it out of committee, but if Republicans want to pass purely on their own votes, they have really got a small margin for error,” he said.
In other SNAP news, the Bipartisan Policy Center issued a report called “Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health.” The report suggests banning SNAP recipients from buying sugary drinks and recommends continuing pilot programs to explore effective ways to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables.
“Research shows that positive incentives for healthy eating, when paired with restrictions on SNAP-eligibility for sugar-sweetened beverages, are more effective than either intervention by itself,” according to the report.
United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel called the report an important step toward maximizing healthy eating and nutrition in the SNAP program.
“The BPC Task Force is to be commended for its clear linkage that healthy eating among SNAP recipients will have a direct positive impact on health outcome and reduce national healthcare costs,” he said in a statement. “It is now time for a serious discussion about how SNAP can be modernized to reflect the nutritional needs and health realities of SNAP recipients.”
Quarles said the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance also is concentrating on making farm bill specialty crop provisions as solid as they can be.
In particular, the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance has asked lawmakers to keep a funding reserve for citrus research in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, while at the same time requesting more funds for other specialty crops.
In a letter sent March 7 to House Agriculture Committee leaders, the alliance asked to increase research funds to accommodate continued funding for citrus researchers fighting the HLB virus,
The letter said that under the current Farm Bill, Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) is funded in total at $80 million annually, with $25 million reserved exclusively for the citrus industry specifically to combat the HLB virus and the Asian Citrus Psyllid vector. This reserved amount is due to expire at the end of September 2018, which would mean all specialty crops would be eligible for the full $80 million in research funds beginning Oct. 1.
“The (alliance), including its citrus industry members, specifically requests that the Committee provide an additional $25 million annually to ensure the citrus industry’s urgent threat is addressed and also to realize the $80 million funding level that you indicated to all specialty crops by fiscal year 2019,” the letter said.
Quarles said the alliance also is working at highlighting the importance of the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program to lawmakers and staff. Now funded at $9 million per year, the alliance wants Congress to find new money for the program in the next farm bill, since the program has no baseline funding for continued operation after this year.