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Farm Bill Fight Over SNAP Cuts Previewed in Markup

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Lucas said he believes the House Agriculture Commitee has come up with a farm bill that will get bipartisan support, even as it reduces spending on the Supplmental Nutrition Assistance Program.

He noted that critics of SNAP, the program once known as food stamps, express concern about fraud, waste and abuse. However, he cited several recent cases of crop insurance fraud, saying there is a need to improve oversight of a program championed by major commodity farmers, their lenders and Democratic and Republican lawmakers representing districts where agriculture dominates the economy. On average, the federal government pays 62 percent of premium costs, while farmers pick up the remaining costs.

The House and Senate farm bills would restructure the financial safety net for farmers with new revenue and price insurance plans, as well as greater reliance on the crop insurance program.

The Senate bill (S 954) calls for $4 billion in SNAP spending reductions over 10 years by requiring states to provide eligible households with at least $10 in heating assistance to qualify them for SNAP monthly benefits. The House bill would set the threshold at $20 for a savings of nearly $9 billion over the next decade.

The House measure also would end states’ ability to set higher poverty level thresholds than the federal level and to qualify people who receive non-cash aid from other programs for low-income people. The House language would end the practice of categorical eligibility and limit SNAP eligibility to people who receive cash benefits from federal welfare or state assistance programs. This would provide a savings of nearly $12 billion over 10 years.

Several Democratic lawmakers joined anti-hunger and poverty groups Thursday at a news conference to argue against the House bill. They also oppose the smaller cut in the Senate farm bill.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Thursday the SNAP cuts in the House bill were unacceptable and the legislation’s restriction on categorical eligibility program was a non-starter for the Senate.

“I absolutely reject the level of cuts and the way this is done in the House,” she said.

New Tone for Panel

McGovern lost the voice vote on the amendment, but his critique of the crop insurance program reflects the changing makeup of the House Agriculture Committee — at least on the Democratic side.

In a recent speech to Oklahoma wheat farmers, Lucas estimated that fewer than half the members of his committee were involved in agriculture or represented districts where farming dominated the economy. Many were on the panel, he said, because of interests in conservation or nutrition, or because they needed a committee assignment.

McGovern, a senior Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Hunger Caucus, joined the committee in the 112th Congress.

Freshman Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who once headed New Mexico’s Department of Health and its Agency on Aging, joined the panel this session. During Wednesday’s markup, Lujan Grisham seemed at ease discussing her state’s rationale for using 165 percent of the federal poverty level in determining eligibility for SNAP.

Democratic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, New Hampshire’s first House Agriculture Committee member in more than 70 years, describes herself as a community advocate and attorney in her biography. During the markup Wednesday, she and Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., got into an exchange that highlighted the differences in their priorities.

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