The Expiration Date of the Farm Bill is Near: Why A New Strong Farm bill is Needed
The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of legislation that affects various facets of agriculture, such as what type of food is grown, conservation measures, and access to food. The multi-part bill expires roughly every five years, with the last Farm Bill passing in 2018 and expiring at the end of 2023.
The first Farm Bill was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 in response to the Great Depression and was a part of the New Deal. Congress passed the bill to reduce surpluses and raise crop prices. The succeeding reauthorizations of the Farm Bill have incorporated transitions from mainly farmer support to a significant investment in food assistance.
In the 2018 bill, the Farm Bill had four main components: conservation, commodities, crop insurance, and nutrition. The Farm Bill’s chapters, or titles, make up the specifics of the legislation and fall mostly under these four categories. The titles in the 2018 Farm Bill were Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural Development, Research, Forestry, Energy, Horticulture, Crop Insurance, and Miscellaneous.
Title Four, Nutrition, comprised 76 percent of the total $428 billion budget in the 2018 farm bill. The biggest component of Title Four is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as Food Stamps. The SNAP program provides food assistance to low-income families and individuals living near or below the poverty line. The food benefit program helps families afford to put food on their tables and is the largest piece of anti-hunger legislation in America. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP kept more than 40 million families from going hungry; two-thirds of participants are families with children. There are restrictions denying SNAP benefits to college students, people convicted of drug felonies in some states, people on strike, and some immigrants, no matter how impoverished they are.
A major restriction in SNAP which is at issue in the upcoming Farm Bill is the harsh 3-month time limit for certain adults without dependent children if they cannot show 80 hours of work activities each month. In the recent legislation enacted to suspend the limit on federal borrowing, SNAP was changed to extend the time limit/work rules requirement from the previous age 18-49 to age 18-54. At the same time, veterans, the unhoused, and young people aging out of foster care were exempted from these restrictions. Some right-wing House members are seeking to get rid of these exemptions and extend the time limits/work rules to age 60; some would apply these restrictions to parents of school-age children. Anti-hunger advocates are strongly opposing any such restrictive provisions; they oppose applying the time limit to any income-eligible people.
Other Farm Bill priorities of anti-hunger advocates such as the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) include increasing benefits (which are now only $6.10 per person per day), covering college students, allowing the purchase of hot prepared foods with SNAP benefits, removing the 5-year waiting period for benefits for lawfully present immigrants, ending the drug felon ban in all states, and including Puerto Rico and other territories in the SNAP program. (Puerto Rico now receives nutrition assistance funds in a limited block grant, despite much higher poverty levels than most of the mainland U.S.)
Aside from nutrition, the Farm Bill assists with rural development by improving rural health care access, funding affordable housing, and expanding broadband through Title 6.
One of the top public policy priorities of the Coalition on Human Needs is improving SNAP and rejecting efforts to restrict and weaken it during reauthorization of the Farm Bill. CHN supports a strong Farm Bill that can protect vulnerable populations in rural and urban America. These protections include but are not limited to reducing hunger and economic inequality, , and improving nutrition and safety. The new Farm Bill should break new ground by including protections for workers throughout the food sector, from farmworkers to workers at food processing plants to retail workers. Worker protections have not been included in previous Farm Bills. They have encountered dangers such as extreme heat in farm fields without adequate breaks for water and shade and speeded-up assembly lines without enough staff. A robust Farm Bill is needed to increase economic opportunities for impoverished families, ensure no American goes hungry, and provide financial stability and protection for workers as well as farmers.
As the Farm Bill of 2018 is set to expire, legislators have started working towards reauthorization, and a new bill is currently in its drafting stage. The reauthorization of the Farm Bill must not result in cuts to SNAP funding or to other supports for low-income rural areas to preserve the progress of the previous Farm Bills.