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An Update on the 2018 Farm Bill

Jacqui Stork

Back in May, we shared a story about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and its relationship to the Farm Bill, a large-scale appropriations act that is responsible for the bulk of federal agricultural policy in America. At that time, no bill had been passed in either chamber of the Congress and it seemed unlikely that we would get a new package before the expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill (actually passed in 2015) on September 30, 2018.


It is still unclear whether or not the 2018 Farm Bill will meet the deadline for passage, and a lot has changed since May. What follows is a brief (read: not comprehensive) update on the 2018 Farm Bill and a look to what we can expect to learn in the coming weeks.


Both the House & Senate have passed versions of the 2018 Farm Bill -

And these versions are very different from each other.


The House passed the exact same bill that was proposed in April and defeated in May. Passed it narrowly, with zero Democratic support and losing 20 Republican members of the caucus[1]. While our earlier piece focused primarily on the impact of the House Bill on SNAP, there were plenty of other "goodies" in there that farming advocates didn't want to see passed. These include the elimination of mandatory funding for a number of programs that support small farming operations; reduced support for programs like farm-to-school and produce prescriptions; expanded loopholes for subsidy and crop insurance programs that primarily benefit large commodity producers; and reduced incentives for farm-based conservation efforts[2].


To be clear, these are just a few of the most egregious examples of turning the clock backwards. On the day of its passage, Portland Congressional Representative Earl Blumenauer summed up his feelings, tweeting: "Another shameful day in the House. GOP turns its back on family farmers & our most vulnerable & passes GOP Farm Bill.".


A week later (June 28th) the Senate passed a version of the bill that is... not so bad. Actually, this version contrasted the House bill from the very beginning thanks to its standing as a popular, bipartisan piece of legislation that passed with 86 votes. Most notably, the Senate version does not include the work requirements and other restrictions to the SNAP program proposed by the House. It also maintains or increases investments in key conservation efforts; tightens eligibility restrictions for subsidy payments; and maintains funding levels for local food promotion programs[3].


In short, the Senate version preserves the Farm Bill as a critical piece of the social safety net for both producers and consumers, while the House version does not. What comes next is an effort to reconcile the two bills in a Conference Committee before a single version will go to a vote in both chambers.


And Now They'll Have to Compromise -

By early August, both chambers had announced their membership for the Conference Committee - a group which will work towards a negotiated bill that can be voted on by the full Congress[4]. They'll be working towards a consensus and compromise through a combination of public and closed-door meetings on the many key issues listed above. Additionally, the smaller discrepancies between the two bills will have to be negotiated as well. In the end, a majority of members from both the House and Senate committees must approve a single, consolidated farm bill to be introduced for a vote.


The National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC)[5] provides a detailed breakdown of the major gaps that will need to be bridged before a final version can be voted on. In it, they also include handy, easy-to-read charts that contrast major provisions from the two bills plus their own policy recommendations. Unsurprisingly, NSAC is far more closely aligned with the version proposed by the Senate on every major provision.


Largely thanks to the quick passage of the Senate bill, there is hope that the 2018 Farm Bill will pass before the current version expires. But, since we're waiting on compromise by both chambers and the signature by the president, it's not likely. There are some major differences across the two bills, and areas in which it would be dangerous (or at the very least be a slippery slope) for the Senate to compromise on. It is also difficult to know exactly where the bill stands, because there hasn't been a peep from the conference committee. Other members of the Congress, and the general public, are still able to comment in an effort to shape the final piece of legislation.


What's Next?

In the coming weeks, we'll explore some of the issues related to the cost of food, including: subsidies, advertising, labor, and conservation. Each of these is deeply connected with and impacted by what happens with the Farm Bill, so you can expect that we'll refer back over and over again. As more news is made related to the 2018 Farm Bill, we'll share that too.


In the meantime, if you're interested in learning more about the history and contents of the farm bill, check out this video by the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN)[6].

[1] http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-bill-house-senate-2018/

[2] http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/chairmans-mark-local-food-rd/

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/senate-passes-sweeping-farm-bill-setting-up-fight-with-house/2018/06/28/0007d532-7aff-11e8-80be-6d32e182a3bc_story.html?utm_term=.2b184555f976

[4] http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-bill-conference-committee/

[5] http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-bill-conference-guide/

[6] https://thefern.org/2018/06/what-is-the-farm-bill-and-why-does-it-matter/