The top House Agriculture Democrat says a final farm bill agreement rejects controversial House provisions to tie food stamp benefits to expanded work requirements, greenlights hemp cultivation and tweaks programs important to farmers and ranchers.
The death of former President George H.W. Bush and his lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda disrupted congressional schedules this week, including the release of a final farm bill. Lawmakers have spent weeks negotiating to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the legislation.
House Agriculture ranking member Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota said the five-year legislation is “mostly a status quo” bill that keeps current work requirements for able-bodied adults in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program. SNAP’s eligibility standards and the way monthly benefits are calculated would remain the same. Peterson made the comments Monday in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. He added Tuesday that he hopes a farm bill conference report will be released Dec. 10.
SNAP was a major focus of the new farm bill because it accounts for more than 70 percent of farm bill spending. House Republicans had pushed to remake the program by shifting money from food aid to labor programs.
For anti-poverty advocates, the House-Senate compromise bill generally represents a victory in defeating proposals they argued could potentially force 1 million or more low-income people out of SNAP.
But Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said his department may be able to curb waivers states provide that exempt food stamp recipients from current SNAP work requirements.
“We have a regulation prepared,” Perdue told reporters Tuesday. “I can’t commit that we will go ahead with that. We haven’t seen the text of the farm bill yet so it would be premature for me to talk about that.”
Aside from nutrition programs, a new farm bill would set policy for land conservation programs, crop insurance and other agricultural initiatives.
Peterson said the final bill will continue the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays participating farmers for practices that reduce soil erosion, improve water quality or provide other environmental benefits on farmland still used for crops. The House farm bill called for merging the program into another USDA program.
The final bill also will expand the Conservation Reserve Program, Peterson added. That program pays farmers who take environmentally sensitive land out of production for multiple years, from 24 million acres to 27 million acres. Payment rates will be reduced to address complaints that the federal subsidies helped raise the price of remaining available farmland in some areas and locked out beginning farmers.
However, Sen. Charles E. Grassley said he’s been told that his proposal to limit the $125,000 annual farm subsidy payment to one manager on a farm did not make it into the final bill. Under the Iowa Republican’s proposal, a qualifying manager would have had to provide at least 500 hours of management a year for a farm or 25 percent of the total management hours required to run the farm. Grassley said the provision was necessary because the 2014 farm bill led large farm operations to claim multiple managers and subsidies.
Grassley said he had voted against the 2014 farm bill because of the issue. The 2014 farm bill expired on Sept. 30. He said Tuesday that he’s unsure how he would vote on a 2018 farm bill.
“Does that mean I’m going to vote against the bill? I guess I’m still cogitating on that issue,” Grassley said.
He said he might vote for the conference report because farmers would get five years of stable policy and programs to help 0them offset low prices and U.S. trade tariffs and retaliatory duties that have reduced agricultural export sales.
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The proposed compromise bill also would make agricultural production of hemp legal in the United States by removing its designation as a drug akin to marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sponsored the language in the Senate bill, has said legalizing hemp could give farmers a new cash crop.
McConnell included language allowing hemp production for research in the 2014 farm bill, and the farm bill conference report would lift federal drug restrictions that have hampered expansion of the crop. The 2018 legislation also would make hemp farmers eligible for federally subsidized crop insurance.
GOP Rep. James R. Comer, a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner and member of the farm bill conference committee, said the “reclassification of hemp from a controlled provision to a regular agriculture crop” is in the conference report.
“I believe in hemp,” said Comer, who ran for agriculture commissioner on a platform to allow hemp production in Kentucky.
The congressman said a compromise has been reached on the original language in the Senate farm bill that would ban from hemp-growing people who have served a prison term for drug possession and other drug offenses such as manufacturing, delivery and dealing. However, he said he was not free to provide details.
“There was a lot of discussion about that. Neither side got what they wanted,” Comer said.