Yes, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did pledge to members of the Ohio Farm Bureau on March 5, “We are going to do a farm bill this year.” But, no details have been uttered about things like:
- policy changes from the previous year’s versions
- length of the bill’s fiscal years
- timing to get legislation to the floor
- the influence of a now more captive legislative process and the fiscal and political impacts of the March 1 cost estimates released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget office (CBO) that increased the farm bill cost by up to $10 billion.
Food Stamps & other Govt nutrition programs make up 80% of the Farm Bill
Moreover, the comments Speaker Boehner made with regard to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) have been conveniently omitted by many pundits and publications, but are more telling about the future prospects of a farm bill. Boehner admitted to the Ohio Farm Bureau that the big fight will focus on food stamps and other government nutrition programs that make up 80% of the Farm Bill. Eligibility for food stamps was “widened in a significant way.” According to Boehner, those widened eligibility requirements added another 18 million Americans to the food stamp program over the past four years. “The really big fight will be over how big of changes we’re going to make on the SNAP (food stamp) program,” said Boehner.
Farm Programs Cut by $31 Billion
U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) followed the Speakers lead and on March 13 the U.S. House Budget Committee adopted a FY 2014 budget plan, 22-17, along party lines. The House Committee-adopted budget would reduce the U.S. deficit by $4.6 trillion over a 10-year and would tighten qualifications for SNAP. It also calls for cutting farm programs by $31 billion but leaves it up to the House Agriculture Committee to decide how to make the cuts.
U.S. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) unveiled their budget plan for FY 2014 on March 13. It would reduce the U.S. deficit by $1.85 trillion over the next ten fiscal years and requires the next farm bill to save $23 billion. The U.S. Senate Budget Committee adopted their version of the FY 2014 budget on March 14, 12-10, along party lines.
Recall the House Agriculture Committee and U.S. Senate approved a farm bill last year that would have saved $35 billion and $23 billion respectively, over 10 years with about $11.7 billion of that coming from cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has re-examined both the House and Senate farm bill proposals and determined their estimate on spending for SNAP under Title IV would be up to $4.4 billion more over the next ten fiscal years, 2013 to 2023, “primarily because of a change in CBO’s estimate of a provision regarding utility allowances.” CBO claimed they obtained new information on state practices and USDA’s interpretation of current law on how households qualify for utility allowances would give states “more flexibility under the proposal than was assumed for the previous estimate.” Under current law, if a SNAP household receives a payment from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), then that household may receive a higher SNAP benefit than if the household had not received such a payment.
The new House GOP budget plan highlights “The record-breaking prosperity of American farmers and farm communities…” But it also “calls for a re-examination of federal agricultural programs that spend billions each year.” The House budget proposal calls for converting SNAP into a block-grant program that would be indexed for inflation and eligibility. This would essentially allow states to customize their individual programs to the needs of their respective states recipients. It also adds time limits and work requirements to SNAP, implementing the reforms gradually.
U.S. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has been given flexibility on how to obtain the needed additional cost savings. Along with commodity and conservation programs, SNAP has not been taken off the table as a potential program to find cost savings.
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