Farm Bill Conference

This Wednesday, October 30, marks the official start to the farm bill conference, which will be a public meeting involving the 41 House and Senate conferees. For months, agriculture leadership and their staff have met behind the scenes on an informal basis to start conversations on reconciling the two farm bills.

Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) hinted at the high hurdles conferees will need to overcome to reconcile vast differences in each chamber’s bill. He called for all conferees to work in a bipartisan fashion to reach an agreement and believed the conferees would make progress on adopting the House’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions in the final bill.

One difference conferees must resolve are cuts to nutrition title funding. The Congressional Budget Office has scored SNAP cost-savings in the Senate bill at $3.9 billion over ten years, while the House bill is estimated to save $39 billion in SNAP funding for the same time period. Another difference is the SNAP reauthorization timetable. The Senate farm bill keeps the five-year timetable for SNAP reauthorization; however, the House farm bill places SNAP reauthorization on a three-year timetable.

Democrats continue to publicly commit to fighting against the adoption of the House’s SNAP cuts in the final bill, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who made similar remarks last week. The White House maintains that it would veto a farm bill with substantial cuts to SNAP, although it has not signaled what level of cuts would trigger a veto.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

This week, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive a substantial cut in funding. On Friday, November 1, stimulus dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to boost SNAP funding ends. This funding cutoff will create a $5 billion funding gap, which translates to a decrease of $36 per month for a family of four in FY 2014. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service was unable to communicate this anticipated development in funding throughout the entire month of October, due to the government shutdown, the agency is depending on organizations like food banks and hunger advocacy groups to educate and prepare SNAP participants for this change.

Last week, the USDA’s Economic Research Service released data showing that 45 percent of the 47.6 million SNAP participants in 2011 were children. Of these children, 15 percent of all participants are younger than five. Given the timing of this information’s release, we expect to hear it cited often throughout the farm bill conference by those in favor of protecting the program against substantial cuts.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, October 30:  The House and Senate farm bill conferees will meet to deliver opening statements and discuss H.R. 2642, The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.