Due to the recent federal government shutdown, the farm bill was placed on the backburner until now. Legislators will convene again tomorrow to discuss and write a final bill.
So why is the outcome of the farm bill so important? To help explain, we’ve assembled some highlights of the 2013 legislation:
- An updated farm bill is passed every five years, with the most recent one passed in 2008.
- Despite the “farm” reference, about two-thirds of the spending goes toward food assistance for low-income individuals and families. Although initially written to address extremely low crop prices in the 1930s, the farm bill now includes vital food programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps).
- During this Congress, the Senate passed a farm bill (S.954) in June; however, the House version (H.R.1947) was killed when approximately one-quarter of Republicans sided with all Democrats in voting against it. The House then splintered their farm bill, and passed a new version (H.R.2642) that entirely omitted authorizations for a number of federal nutrition programs, including SNAP. (To learn more about the various iterations of the 2013 farm bill, please read our July blog post here.)
- On Sept. 19, the House approved a separate bill (H.R. 3102) inclusive of SNAP. However, it cut nearly $4 billion a year over 10 years from SNAP, an overall 5 percent reduction in the program that helps feed more than one in five Mississippians and one in six Arkansans.
- On Sept. 28, the House combined its nutrition bill with its farm bill into a single piece of legislation (H.Res. 361). Yet, the House bill still contains two provisions regarding SNAP that are particularly divisive. The first provision, which was not part of the initial House farm bill, would remove the state waiver authority for the three-month time limit imposed on childless adults receiving government assistance, i.e. permitting states to put new restrictions on public benefit recipients, such as drug-testing and mandating some to work. The second provision still plans to make significant SNAP cuts by eradicating “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which currently allows states to eliminate asset limits in SNAP. In essence, the bill would institute a federal asset limit of $2,000 on SNAP, inhibiting a family’s ability to receive SNAP even if they qualify for other low-income government assistance programs.
As discussed in our Winter 2013 report, the adverse effects of asset limits on SNAP potentially increase the duration of time a family stays on the program by preventing them to save and financially stabilize.If Congress passes a similar bill inclusive of the categorical eligibility provision stated above, neither Arkansas nor Mississippi will have the authority to eliminate asset limits on their SNAP programs. Moreover, deep cuts in SNAP benefits will negatively impact families who have proven to need nutrition assistance.
We encourage you to contact your lawmakers and ask them to oppose asset limits for SNAP recipients and support working Arkansans. You can view the contact information for Arkansas’s Congressional delegation here. We’ll continue to monitor the situation in the coming weeks and keep you updated.