WASHINGTON — After a month of political gamesmanship to force votes on controversial immigration reform measures, the U.S. House narrowly approved its version of the 2018 farm bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, 213–211 in a re-vote of the same measure that failed in May.
Once the Senate approves its own farm bill, which could come as early as next week, lawmakers will have to try and marry the two different bills in conference.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, TX-11, said the vote “was about keeping faith with the men and women of rural America and about the enduring promise of the dignity of a day’s work.”
On the other side of the aisle, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson voiced his displeasure after the vote, saying, “The partisan approach of the majority has produced a bill that simply doesn’t do enough for the people it’s supposed to serve.”
“The only upside to its passage is that we’re one step closer to conference, where it’s my hope that cooler heads can and will prevail.”
Democrats unanimously opposed the measure, saying it would toss too many people off government food assistance. But 20 Republicans also voted no, giving GOP leaders a brief scare in what was their second attempt to pass a farm bill. In May, they suffered a setback when 30 GOP members opposed passage in an effort to force a vote on conservative immigration legislation.
The bill requires able-bodied adults aged 18-59 to work or participate in job training for 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamp benefits that average about $450 a month for a family of four. Government auditors estimate that in 10 years, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, caseload would shrink by about 1.2 million people in an average month if the bill becomes law.
The measure also limits circumstances under which families who qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be eligible for SNAP, and earmarks $1 billion to expand work training programs.
Farm groups react
American Farm Bureau Federation President, Zippy Duvall called passage of the House farm bill a big win for America’s farmers and said House members recognized the serious economic challenges facing U.S. farmers.
“This bill recognizes what is working well, but it also makes much-needed improvements in risk management and crop insurance programs at a time when farm-income levels have slumped to decade lows,” Duvall said.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson issued a statement his farm group was “disappointed by many components of the House’s version of the 2018 farm bill. Family farmers and consumers alike require strong safety nets, farm sustainability measures, and accessible markets.”
The National Pork Producers Council praised passage of the farm bill, which includes language establishing and funding a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank.
The House bill also includes funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, both of which help support exports markets for U.S. goods. The programs are consolidated as the International Market Development Program.
Additionally, the measure contains improvements to the dairy safety net. The measure raises the maximum covered margin in the dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) to $9/hundredweight and provides increased flexibility in the amount of milk that can be insured.
The bill also includes provisions to improve milk price risk management, reflecting an agreement reached between National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association on changes to federal milk marketing orders.
The conservation title will help producers access technical and financial assistance to carry out multiple conservation practices on their land and water. The bill includes an amendment to increase the emphasis on nutrient recovery technologies within the conservation title.
The bill also features helpful provisions intended to increase fluid milk consumption, including an amendment by Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-Pa., to expand the varieties of milk offered in schools.
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