After many months of tumultuous and even contentious debate, congress has approved an $867 billion farm bill. It’s a different looking farm bill than some were pushing for in the past months, but it is on its way to President Trump’s desk.
In part, due to pressure from the ag industry feeling the effects of recent declines in commodity prices triggered by the Trump Administration’s trade dispute with China. A stare-down of sorts that some see as a the president playing out a checkmate strategy in a chess match while others see it as a pigeon strutting around the board, making a mess, and knocking the pieces over.
Regardless of one’s perspective on the so-called “trade war”, the farm bill won overwhelming bi-partisan support also due to the House plan which would have required stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients being scratched from the final version. There are also no cuts to SNAP which is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps.
This pie chart shows the breakdown of the basic traditional structure of farm bill fund disbursement.
It passed 386-47 in the House of Representatives Wednesday after the Senate approved it by an 87-13 margin on Tuesday. Of the $867 billion price tag, 80% or nearly $700 billion, funds nutrition programs. About 70% of that $700 billion goes to the . The remainder of the nutrition assistance dollars fund school lunch and breakfast programs, WIC and more.
The above graph shows the traditional disbursement of funding for nutrition programs which constitute 80% of the Farm Bill’s expenditures.
The other 20%, or about $175 billion dollars, subsidizes and incentives farmers, manages commodities, bolsters crop insurance and funds conservation programs. legalizes hemp, bolsters farmers markets and rejects stricter limits on food stamps pushed by House Republicans. President Trump is expected to soon sign it into law.
The graph above shows the demographics of SNAP participants.
The farm bill’s price tag is high, but is claimed to have no additional impact on the government’s deficit. The bill’s drafters used the foundation set by the Congressional Budget Office under existing spending levels of $867 billion over the next 10 years, meaning it will not increase the federal deficit from prior projections.
“The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement after the bill passed the House.
The bill does not lack in criticism, largely from Republicans. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, one of two farmers in the Senate and a member of the Senate Ag Committee, voted against the package over its expansion of federal subsidies to more-distant relatives of farmers, such as cousins, nephews and nieces. Grassley joined eight other Republicans in opposing the measure which was supported by every Senate Democrat.
“I’m very disappointed the conferees decided to expand the loopholes on farm subsidies,” Grassley said before the vote. “I’ve been trying to make sure the people who get the subsidies are real farmers. I’ve been trying for three years, and it gets worse and worse and worse.”
The House Republicans’ farm bill would have forced states to impose work requirements for food stamps on older workers, those aged 49 to 59, as well as parents with children ages 6 to 12. According to an estimate by a policy research group, those proposals could have resulted in potential benefit reductions for up to 1.1 million households out about 40 million overall who receive benefits.
Although the bill won’t shrink individual benefits, it does create some SNAP revisions. For example, the program will now prevent individuals from receiving food stamp benefits in multiple states. The final farm bill also eliminates an awards program that gave states up to $48 million a year in federal funding for high performances related to program access and payment accuracy.
The White House has expressed intentions to make cuts to SNAP without approval from Congress, and this farm bill does stand in the way of the administration’s ability to do that down the road, according to congressional aids.
The final farm bill provides permanent funding for a number of programs Congress was funding on a temporary basis, five years at a time. These include promotional funds for local farmers markets, research funds for organic farming, and money for organizations working to train the next generation of farmers at a time when experts have raised concerns about the aging within the industry. The bill also provides permanent funding for veteran and minority farmers.
The farm bill opens the cultivation and production of industrial hemp nationwide. Hemp is derived from the stalks and stems of the cannabis plant which grow rapidly and were one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber going back thousands of years. Analysts predict that hemp could grow into a $20 billion industry by 2022. Some say even that number is conservative.