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Trump budget would trim crop insurance, change SNAP pay

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just weeks after promising the American Farm Bureau convention that he supports crop insurance, President Donald Trump in his 2019 budget proposed a 33 percent cut to the popular program that has sustained farmers who have faced losses from natural disaster or dips in commodity prices.

Also included in the budget deal is a shake-up to one of the country’s biggest safety net programs, the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Trump wants to swap currency with home-delivered prepackaged box meals to the program’s 43 million recipients.

This change would reduce overall costs to the SNAP program by $26 billion over the next 10 years, the administration said.

“This budget is the most anti-rural, anti-farmer proposal the agriculture community has seen in years,” the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) said in a harsh rebuke. “If these proposals are realized, it will not be America’s family farmers and ranchers that suffer – every one of us that depends on a safe, abundant and sustainable food system will be affected.”

Trump’s budget calls for spending levels of $4.4 trillion, which if approved would add $984 billion to the federal deficit next year for a total of $7.7 trillion over 10 years. The deal hikes defense appropriations from $523.28 billion to $597.1 billion.

Across more than a dozen federal agencies, the budget proposes eliminating 62 programs through zero funding. At the EPA, it cuts the agency’s share by $2.8 billion, to $6.5 billion.

For Trump’s much-discussed infrastructure plan, the White House proposes a $1.1 trillion initiative – $200 billion coming from taxpayers, with the rest shared between state and local communities and private sector investments.

Agricultural programs are facing a dramatic 16 percent hit, chopping $3.7 billion in the USDA’s discretionary budget and $17.2 billion from SNAP, or $213.5 billion over the next decade. Last year, the government spent $64 billion for SNAP.

Across the USDA, the cuts hit the Economic Research Service by nearly 50 percent; the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program by 23 percent; and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) by 14.5 percent, dropping from $1.29 billion to $1 billion and eliminating 154 jobs in the division’s $102 million Product Quality/Value Added program, by $40 million.

The proposal also cuts $136 million for conservation programs, eliminates the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, discontinues $166 million for the Food for Progress aid program and eliminates the Biomass Research and Development Initiative.

Iowa farmer John Heisdorffer, president of the American Soybean Assoc. (ASA), said, “The proposed cuts in crop insurance and farm programs make this budget a non-starter. As the farm economy continues to struggle in its recovery, farmers cannot afford these back-breaking cuts. We strongly urge Congress to push this budget to the side and continue to advance practical farm policy.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Trump had committed to him that he would not touch the subsidies.

“I did get the backing of the President… from about two or three weeks ago, and we were able to convince the President it was a very valuable and needed program,” he said. “I will hold him at his word and look forward to sending him a farm bill with a crop insurance program that protects farmers and ranchers.”

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member, said, “Contrary to the administration’s infrastructure proposal, this budget will harm rural America and agriculture.

“While it’s safe to assume this proposal won’t pass Congress, the individual provisions represent a blueprint for lawmakers seeking to weaken or completely do away with farm and food safety net, making the already difficult task of passing a farm bill that much harder. All in agriculture should stand together in opposition to this budget.”

Under the crop insurance proposal, the average premium subsidy would drop to 48 from 62 percent, changes that would save $2 billion a year beginning in 2020, the White House said.

Harvest Box questioned

Trump’s plan to ship meal boxes, called a “Harvest Box,” to the nation’s SNAP recipients in place of the current monthly SNAP debit card is meeting widespread criticism. Under the proposal, rather than getting all their benefits to spend on groceries, low-income working families, seniors and disabled people on fixed income, would receive more than $90 month in benefits in a Harvest Box.

The food kits would be delivered to a recipients’ homes and include “shelf-stable” milk, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, canned meat and canned fruits and vegetables, all “100 percent American-grown and produced.” They would pay for those boxes with their monthly benefits and get the remaining value on a government debit card (how all benefits are currently delivered).

The government proposes delivering the box meals through a system similar to the commercial Blue Apron delivery service used by nearly 800,000 customers.

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said the box program has left him baffled.

“There’s no way one can improve nutritional outcomes in families on SNAP by reducing the amount of money they have available for fresh fruit, vegetables and milk,” he said. “They think a bureaucrat in D.C. is better at picking out what your family needs more than you are?”

Critics of the box meals say it isn’t clear how billions of dollars’ worth of food would be distributed to millions of SNAP recipients who live all over the country, including dense urban areas and sparsely populated rural regions. Stacy Dean, vice president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said the idea the government can save money by distributing food itself is “ill-informed, at best.”

In January, Trump addressed thousands of farmers and agriculture workers in Nashville, telling them, “I support a bill that includes crop insurance.” Last May he angered farm groups when he proposed capping the amount the government chips in toward crop insurance premiums.

The White House budget once again is proposing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and to eliminate the law’s expansion of Medicaid and make hundreds of billions in new cuts to Medicare, a program he vowed as a candidate to leave alone.

The government proposes savings in Medicare of more than $490 billion over 10 years, or about 5 percent of current Medicare spending; cutting $69.5 billion over 10 years to hospitals for “uncompensated care” and $95 billion over 10 years to nursing homes and home health agencies.

Earlier this month, Trump signed a contentious budget deal that ended a brief government shutdown, approving about $500 billion in new funding, including $89 billion to aid hurricane- and wildfire-stricken communities.

After the 2018 budget was proposed last year, Congress ignored most of what Trump wanted, and budget watchers across government say lawmakers are likely to ignore the White House’s proposals again this year.