Farm bill scraps plan for new food stamp rules

Belleville News-Democrat - - Opinion - BY BRYAN LOWRY AND KATE IRBY [email protected]­clatchydc.com [email protected]­clatchydc.com

Fed­eral food aid re­cip­i­ents won’t be faced with ma­jor new work re­quire­ments. And changes in forestry pol­icy that made en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists fu­ri­ous are gone.

House Repub­li­cans gave up Thurs­day on try­ing to in­clude those pro­vi­sions in a mas­sive farm pol­icy bill, clear­ing the way for a vote in Congress next week.

The con­ces­sions will likely help draw Demo­cratic votes to the bill in the House. Democrats in­di­cated sup­port would be more bi­par­ti­san and fol­low sim­i­lar num­bers on past farm bills, which tend to pass com­fort­ably.

The farm bill will reau­tho­rize the na­tion’s nearly $900 bil­lion in food and agri­cul­ture pro­grams for an­other five years. That in­cludes the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, formerly known as food stamps, which helps low­in­come fam­i­lies pay for food. The bill also deals with crop in­sur­ance, a pro­gram that pro­tects farm­ers against fi­nan­cial losses due to dis­as­ters and droughts.

Out is the House Repub­li­cans’ plan, which aimed to ex­pand work re­quire­ments for SNAP ben­e­fi­cia­ries. The GOP wanted the work rules to ap­ply to able-bod­ied adults up to age 59 and to peo­ple with young de­pen­dent chil­dren, an un­pop­u­lar prospect to Democrats. Leav­ing that out will mean more sup­port from House Democrats but will alien­ate some Repub­li­cans.

House Repub­li­cans lacked enough clout to push for the stricter work re­quire­ments af­ter Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in this month’s House elec­tions.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the lead ne­go­tia­tor for the Se­nate, was vague about the spe­cific pro­vi­sions in the com­pro­mise. But when asked if the bill would be closer to the Se­nate’s plan for SNAP, Roberts replied, “I would say, yes.”

The Se­nate plan in­cluded in­cen­tives for states to ex­pand work train­ing pro­grams and added new ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures to the pro­gram. “It’s more com­pre­hen­sive and fo­cuses on pro­gram in­tegrity,” Roberts said.

A se­nior Demo­cratic staff mem­ber said while SNAP pro­vi­sions did mostly re­flect the Se­nate ver­sion, there were cer­tain “con­ces­sions” given to House Repub­li­cans. But those con­ces­sions will be “tweaks and tight­en­ing” to work re­quire­ments, not “big sweep­ing in­creases,” the staff mem­ber said.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said that the House would largely have to ac­cept the Se­nate’s po­si­tion on the nutri­tion pro­gram.

“I don’t think we can get a sin­gle Demo­crat to vote for some of the re­quire­ments in the House nutri­tion ti­tle,” Thune said.

Some House Repub­li­cans are al­ready sig­nal­ing the changes mean they won’t sup­port the fi­nal bill.

Rep. Mark Walker, RN.C., said on Twit­ter that he couldn’t sup­port the new ver­sion of the farm bill af­ter the con­ces­sions on some key is­sues.

“House con­ser­va­tives, the pres­i­dent and the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans sup­port poli­cies that en­cour­age work and help lift peo­ple out of poverty. As I’ve said for months, those pro­vi­sions have to stay,” Walker said.

Rep. Roger Mar­shall, R-Kan., a House Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee mem­ber, said, “I think we can get it passed,” even though “for me to sit here and say we’re not go­ing to lose some Repub­li­can votes, I can’t say that.” Mar­shall sup­ports the bill be­cause it pre­serves crop in­sur­ance, a top pri­or­ity for his district.

Thune said Repub­li­cans would also make con­ces­sions in the de­bate over for­est fires.

MARK SCHULTZ [email protected]­sob­server.com

“There just isn’ much profit to be made on a farm these days,” says Ben Ll­loyd, stand­ing his soy­bean field in Efland.

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