By Susan Crowell / email@example.com
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed its version of the farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on a strong bipartisan 86-11 vote June 28.
The bill, which would be in effect through fiscal year 2023, makes few changes to existing farm and nutrition assistance programs. That contrasts to the House bill, meaning the conference committee meetings could be tense.
“Today marks an important day for farm country. We are one step closer to providing farmers and ranchers a Farm Bill with the certainty and predictability they deserve,” said U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
The versions of the bill passed by the Senate and House of Representatives will now go to the Joint Conference Committee, which will address the differences and agree on a final bill. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2018.
Speaking on the Senate floor several hours before the vote, Roberts had exhorted his colleagues to support an immediate vote.
“All of agriculture is struggling, not just one or two commodities. We need to wrap this up today.”
From Ohio, Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman both voted for the farm bill, as did Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and both West Virginia senators, Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Joe Manchin. Pennsylvania’s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, voted against the bill.
In a statement released after the vote, Toomey explained his vote, calling the bill “another wasted opportunity to rein in excessive spending and end corporate welfare. It fails to reform, even modestly, any of the numerous taxpayer subsidies for agriculture products.”
SNAP work requirements
On the food stamp front, the two sides are likely to clash in the conference committee.
The House bill tightens work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Currently, able-bodied adults ages 18-49 without children are required to work 20 hours a week to maintain their benefits. The bill raises the top age of recipients subject to work requirements from 49 to 59 and requires parents with children older than 6 to work or participate in job training.
Government auditors estimate that in 10 years, the SNAP caseload would shrink by about 1.2 million people in an average month if the bill becomes law.
The House measure also limits circumstances under which families who qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be eligible for SNAP. It earmarks $1 billion to expand work training programs.
The Senate version aims to reduce fraud in SNAP but doesn’t cut funding from the program, which helps feed more than 40 million people across the United States.
Passage of the measure was delayed by a battle over an amendment from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., barring U.S. taxpayer funds from being spent on businesses owned by the Cuban military. The Senate adopted Rubio’s amendment.
The Senate bill also includes a provision from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would legalize the production of industrial hemp.
There was a separate vote on an amendment that would’ve imposed new requirements for farm commodity checkoff boards. That amendment, offered by Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., failed on a 38-57 vote.
The Senate version of the farm bill also contains enhancements to the dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP), including improved coverage levels and greater program flexibility. The bill, which renames the MPP as the “Dairy Risk Coverage” program, raises the maximum covered margin to $9/cwt. and adjusts the minimum percentage of milk that can be insured.
The Senate bill included an amendment by Ohio’s two senators that would assist Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. The amendment that would increase the amount of formula funding that Central State will be able to receive from USDA, while not jeopardizing the funding of any other schools. Central State was granted land grant status in the 2014 farm bill.
(©2018 Farm and Dairy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.)
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