A U.S. House panel is debating changes to nutrition benefits in the GOP’s farm bill proposal

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee clashed delayed Thursday over funding for food and nutrition programs as part of Republicans’ sweeping proposal for a up-to-date five-year farm bill.

The committee’s $1.5 trillion omnibus farm bill would establish policy and funding levels for agriculture and conservation programs for the next five years, as well as food and nutrition programs for families in need.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, Republican from Pennsylvania, presented the long-awaited bill last week, and his panel held a marathon of marathons on Thursday. The committee is expected to vote on a series of amendments and the bill around midnight EST.

The bill is hampered by disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over a funding calculation that would place limits on the formula that calculates benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, the food assistance program formerly called food stamps.

Democrats said Thursday it would lead to cuts to SNAP and derail any future of bipartisan support for the farm bill, which would have to pass the Senate.

“There is absolutely no way we can get a farm bill if we don’t address this issue, and that’s the heart of it,” Republican David Scott of Georgia, the top Democrat on the machinery committee, said of SNAP funding.

While the House committee was debating the bill, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, said in an interview Thursday that the bill had no chance in the Senate.

“This breaks up the agriculture and food coalition and has no votes to pass in the House. And certainly not in the Senate,” Stabenow told States Newsroom.

Nutrition programs account for the majority of farm expenses. More than 41 million people receive SNAP benefits according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Democrats Plan Changes to SNAP Funding

Thompson’s bill would limit future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, the formula that calculates benefits for SNAP. This would lead to nearly $30 billion in spending reductions over a decade, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, lawmakers say.

Democrats say it would significantly reduce the food purchasing power of Americans in need.

“Any effort that takes food off the table for hard-working families takes my vote off the table,” said Rep. Gabe Vasquez, a Democrat from New Mexico.

“If we want the farm bill to be passed at the bipartisan level required to advance out of this committee, it is imperative that we return to the negotiating table and remove this provision,” Colorado Democrat Yadira Caraveo said.

Connecticut Democrat Jahana Hayes proposed an amendment that would make changes to the program. But after more than two hours of passionate debate on the issue on Thursday evening, the amendment was defeated by a party-line vote of 25 to 29.

“It is unfathomable that we are once again targeting the most vulnerable in this country, the hungry,” Hayes told the committee. “There are elements of the bill that show promise, but they should not come at the expense of the most vulnerable.”

Republicans defend the up-to-date formula

The basic issue is the forecast of agricultural bills costs for the next 10 years. The Farm Bill must remain budget neutral, so lawmakers must align their proposals with the baseline amount the government would spend if the current extended Farm Bill were in place.

Republicans insist that changes to SNAP represent a cost-benefit that would not actually reduce food support for families in need. The change won’t take effect until 2027 and won’t directly reduce current SNAP levels. Instead, it would freeze the list of products families can buy with their benefits and the value they can buy, except for inflation-related increases.

As such, the limits would make it more hard for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to add up-to-date items to SNAP or provide more support for certain categories, as the Biden administration did in 2021 when it expanded benefits for fruits and vegetables.

New York Republican Mark Molinaro said it was “unfair” to characterize the changes as reductions in SNAP benefits, and South Dakota Republican Dusty Johnson said electronic benefit card benefits for SNAP would not decline.

Democrats, however, pointed to CBO cost estimates that project a reduction in federal spending on SNAP if the bill becomes law.

“Let’s not try to say it’s no big deal. This is a huge deal … we have to do better,” said Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

California Democrat Salud Carbajal said Republicans try to “always have both.”

“If the commission believes there is a charge for this, it means they are taking funds away from hungry families,” Carbaja said.

The Farm Bill funds programs in 12 titles for five years. The massive bill combines support for agricultural producers, energy and protection programs on agricultural land, and food and nutrition programs for needy families.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack raised questions this week that aligning Republican proposals with SNAP benefits threatened this coalition.

The Republican bill would augment “safety net” farm payments for some commodity crops, expand eligibility for disaster relief and augment funding for specialty crops, organic farmers and dairy farmers.

This is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Summary title by title 942-page bill can be found Here.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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