By Rep. Adrian Smith
Congress is currently facing several major issues which need to be addressed. We need to agree on legislation to keep the government operating before the end of the fiscal year. The President’s ill-conceived health care law is set to launch on October 1, even though it is clearly not ready to be implemented. And we are once again quickly approaching the federal debt limit.
Among these and other issues, I have not lost sight of the need for passage of a long-term Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill will expire on September 30. While a lapse in farm policy would not directly impact crop insurance, the bill authorizes and funds several other essential programs which support our agriculture economy. Producers deserve the certainty of a long-term bill, and Congress should avoid resorting to another extension.
A major component of the Farm Bill has traditionally been the nutrition title, which includes programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. Historically, combining nutrition and farm policy in one bill has been a way to attract both rural and urban votes for the legislation in Congress. Now, combining the two policies is the best way to implement desperately needed reforms to the SNAP program.
This year, the House split the farm and nutrition titles into two separate bills, due to disagreement over SNAP reforms. SNAP spending has increased 105 percent since 2008 when Congress last passed a five-year Farm Bill, and nutrition programs make up about 80 percent of total spending in the bill. Unfortunately, some refused to accept even modest reforms to this program, while others did not think the cuts went far enough.
The House passed a revised “farm-only” bill in July, and a reformed nutrition title this week. The House-passed nutrition bill would make important reforms to focus food stamp assistance for families in need, help beneficiaries become more self-sufficient, and save $40 billion over 10 years. Importantly, these reforms would not deny benefits to those in need. The bill passed by the House would ensure tax dollars go to those who meet existing income and asset requirements by eliminating loopholes such as the “categorically eligible” designation for public assistance and the “heat-and-eat” system. These programs allow states to increase food stamp eligibility by artificially lowering eligibility requirements for other public assistance programs.
Our nutrition bill also would restore work and job training requirements originally included in bipartisan welfare reform, and would end taxpayer-funded advertising of food stamps.
While progress on a new Farm Bill has been uneven and at times frustrating, we are still moving forward. I am hopeful with passage of farm and nutrition policy, we can now negotiate a Farm Bill in a conference committee between the House and Senate. I remain optimistic and committed to getting this priority done.