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House, Senate farm bill summaries show SNAP, climate division

Thompson plans May 23 markup; Stabenow eyes law by year-end

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks during a news conference after the senate luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks during a news conference after the senate luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House and Senate Agriculture committee leaders released summaries of proposed farm bills Wednesday as they ramp up action on agricultural policy legislation, but they remain divided on food stamp benefits and on the use of conservation funds already appropriated.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released a section-by-section summary that she described in a press briefing as “very mainstream,” saying it contains more than 100 bipartisan bills.

“I’ve decided that the best way to jump-start the next steps on negotiation is to actually put out a farm bill. So this is not a framework — this is a farm bill,” Stabenow said. “I feel if this was on the floor right now in the Senate, we could get the bipartisan votes for it.”

House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., made a similar move, releasing a summary and saying that the panel will mark the legislation up on May 23. Stabenow doesn’t now have a markup scheduled.

“I hope for unanimous support in this endeavor to bring stability to producers, protect our nation’s food security, and revitalize rural America,” Thompson said in a statement.

The current farm bill, which expires on Sept. 30, extended policies that were enacted by the 2018 law. Stabenow seemed to suggest another extension will be necessary by saying she hoped the summary would “spur Republicans to return to the negotiating table in good faith and join us in reaching a bipartisan compromise that can be signed into law by the end of the year.”

The House summary says the farm bill would include historic funding in the conservation title by reallocating money provided by a 2022 clean energy law. It also would expand covered conservation practices, but doesn’t elaborate.

The use of the 2022 funds has been a red line for Democrats because they want that money to address climate change. The Senate proposal would move the money into the farm bill’s conservation title, but would only make it available for climate-smart programs.

The Senate summary said it would go to fund the Environmental Quality Incentives, Conservation Stewardship, Agricultural Conservation Easement, and Regional Conservation Partnership programs. 

Thompson has pushed back on what he calls climate sideboards in the conservation title.

House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., scheduled a markup of the farm bill for May 23. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“We’re not going to add any new climate sideboards for what we do in conservation now,” he said in an April interview. “Because we know what works is, all conservation is climate friendly, but it needs to be locally led and voluntary.”

He said that by reallocating the conservation funds into the farm bill, they will be available in future farm bills. 

The 2022 funds are available through fiscal 2031. 

Lawmakers are divided over the Thrifty Food Plan used to set Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps. The 2018 farm bill directed the Agriculture Department to reevaluate the plan every five years based on food prices, food composition data, consumption patterns and dietary guidance.

The USDA’s update in 2021 resulted in a 21 percent increase in benefits, bringing criticism from Republicans unhappy that SNAP is accounting for a larger part of the farm bill. The Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year cost projection through fiscal 2033 shows SNAP would account for $1.2 trillion out of a nearly $1.5 trillion baseline for the farm bill. 

The House Agriculture summary says the legislation “corrects egregious Executive branch overreach and disallows future unelected bureaucrats from arbitrarily increasing or decimating SNAP benefits.”

Republicans want to make the plan cost-neutral, which would effectively bar SNAP benefits from increasing or decreasing except to reflect the cost of living.

“What we’re trying to do with SNAP is not cut anybody’s benefits. It also builds a firewall so that some future administration cannot arbitrarily cut SNAP benefits,” Thompson said in the April interview.

The Senate, however, would maintain the five-year reevaluation requirement. But Stabenow said she’s “on board” if they want to guarantee that an administration can’t decrease SNAP benefits.

The Senate summary provided more detail on a range of programs, saying the legislation would raise the statutory reference price for commodities such as seed cotton, rice, and peanuts that have not or are not expected to benefit from an existing mechanism by 5 percent; increase the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap to 29 million acres from 27 million acres from fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2029; and extend the $255 million in annual mandatory funding for trade promotion through fiscal 2029.

The House summary steers clear of such precision, saying it “modernizes the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by incentivizing enrollment of marginal lands and emphasizing state partnerships,” and that it “substantially increases funding for MAP/FMD,” the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program that are part of trade promotion. 

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