Friday, June 29, 2018

Senate passes Farm Bill with new subsidy limits and without House's new SNAP work requirements

The Senate passed its version of the $428 billion Farm Bill yesterday by a vote of 86 to 11. The bill's overwhelming support "reflected a bipartisan desire to rush relief to farmers confronting low prices for their products and an array of other troubles. But the bill faces challenges when lawmakers meet later this summer to reconcile gaping differences between the House and Senate bills," Caitlin Dewey and Erica Werner report for The Washington Post.

The House bill, which passed last week, includes work requirements for able-bodied adults participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as food stamps; the Senate bill does not, and key senators have said they would not support a final bill with such requirements. An amendment similar to the House language failed 30-68.

The Senate bill "also preserves a major conservation program gutted in the House bill, as well as a separate provision, unpopular in the House, that would limit farm-subsidy payments," the Post reports. "Under the Senate bill, farm 'managers' who are not actively engaged in running a farm would lose out on the subsidy checks the USDA distributes when crop prices fall below predetermined levels." Also, the bill “lowers the adjusted gross income threshold at which farmers are no longer eligible for farm subsidies to $700,000 from $900,000,” Bloomberg News reports. The limits were proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who failed to get similar measures passed in the last Farm Bill, Christine Haughney reports for Politico.

Also in the Senate bill is a provision to legalize industrial hemp, a pet project of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "McConnell secured a hemp pilot program in the most recent Farm Bill in 2014. He views the crop as a good replacement for tobacco, which is grown in his home state," Juliet Linderman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"Lawmakers are also likely to clash over conservation funding, which both chambers reduced — but which the House cut more steeply, by $5 billion over 10 years," Dewey and Werner report. "House Republicans have proposed eliminating much of the Conservation Stewardship Program, a popular initiative aimed at encouraging farmers to address soil, air and water quality."

The bill includes language from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to expand support for rural entrepreneurs, including use of the Agriculture Department’s Community Facilities Program "to invest in business incubators, maker-spaces, and job training centers" to support entrepreneurs, a Gillibrand news release said. The program provides loans, loan guarantees and grants to improve public facilities and services in rural communities.

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