By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reports from the U.S. House indicate some lawmakers, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), are launching an effort to decouple the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the farm bill in its proposal.
Meanwhile, the entire agricultural community is left waiting as the House, which recently voted the farm bill down, considers whether to make slight changes or completely overhaul the package, removing controversial measures such as SNAP in order to advance the bill to conference committee with the Senate.
Nearly all of represented agriculture seems adamant that SNAP, formerly the food stamp program, should not be separated from the farm bill, originally created as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933 as the Agricultural Adjustment Act.
Garry Niemeyer, board chair and past president of the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA) and a farmer from Auburn, Ill., said last week separating SNAP from the farm bill would be such a logistic nightmare that he doubts final versions could ever be ironed out in conference committee.
“It would have to go through the entire Senate Ag Committee-Senate, House Ag Committee-House circuit, then to conference committee and back through the House and Senate again. I just don’t think it’s possible to conference separate bills,” he explained.
The NCGA joined with 531 other agricultural organizations and companies to send a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urging consideration of the farm bill again by the House, and to strongly oppose splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the legislation.
“Splitting will cause further delays, creating even greater uncertainty,” said NCGA President Pam Johnson of Iowa.
SNAP provisions within the farm bill are what doomed the House version, according to Mary Kay Thatcher, farm policy specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “SNAP was really the key to whether this bill could pass. While many Republicans were calling for considerably more than $20 billion in reductions to SNAP, a lot of Democrats refused to make any cuts to the program,” she recounted.
Illinois Corn (ICGA) joined the chorus of state and national farm organizations in condemning the effort to decouple SNAP and farm policy. The ICGA feels, among other reasons, that decoupling SNAP from the farm bill would create a less-than-favorable environment for passage of an agriculture-only measure.
There aren’t enough common interests in the issues to intrigue a Congress serving largely urban constituents, according to ICGA President Paul Taylor. He stated Congress doesn’t grasp the link between farm programs and how they directly impact urban constituents.
“What most people fail to consider in this discussion is that the SNAP program and crop insurance are permanent law. Those programs persist without any reform from the House or Senate,” Taylor said. “Failure to compromise actually results in a win for the status quo. The only option that is worse for Americans is not passing anything at all.”
The failure by the House to advance a farm bill has many non-farming Americans inquiring as to why SNAP and farm policy are contained in the same comprehensive bill. ICGA’s project coordinator, Lindsey Mitchell, posted on her blog some answers for farmers to refer to when addressing non-farming neighbors and family about the topic.
“For starters, the two concepts aren’t as far removed as you might think. The food stamp program is to provide food security for families that struggle to provide for themselves. The farm bill is to provide food security for our nation so that we don’t have to import food from other countries,” Mitchell writes, in part.
More of her comments can be accessed on her blog through www.ilcorn.org
“The failure by the House leadership, for the second year in a row, to reach consensus, is a tremendous disappointment for all Americans,” stated USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on June 21. “Unfortunately, the House version of this bill would have unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children, while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America.”