Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives appear reluctant to put the 2012 farm bill to a vote before the August recess despite a letter signed by 62 representatives, including Kristi Noem, urging them to do so.
But what exactly is in the bill and why isn’t it being passed?
Every five years the House and Senate pass a bill collectively known as the farm bill. While the bill does deal with issues of crop insurance, farmer subsidies, disaster relief and other agricultural issues, a large financial portion of the bill goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps.
Farming and SNAP benefits might seem to be strange bedfellows, but their shared fate is a type of congressional logrolling — trading support for one issue to gain support for another.
Urban areas don’t have many farms, so representatives from those areas have less motivation to support subsidies for farmers and crop insurance. Rural areas have fewer people and get less funding for programs like SNAP, so representatives from rural areas have less motivation to support those programs.
By joining SNAP with agriculture Congress is usually able to pass the farm bill. This year the Senate has passed its version, but the House version is stuck. Both versions of the bill cut payments to some farmers, cap other payments and restrict SNAP eligibility, but the House version cuts $16.5 billion from SNAP compared to $4.5 billion in the Senate version.
Both bills cut spending compared to the previous farm bill, but the bill still spends roughly $950 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Democratic candidate Matt Varilek, who is running against Noem this year, said it is essential for Congress to pass a farm bill before the deadline, regardless if it’s the House or Senate version.
“Most see the House bill as better for the South,” Varilek said, “The Senate bill is better for industries in this part of the country.”
Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said the bill needs to be passed, but he was disappointed with the lack of provisions for ranchers.
“We need to have a livestock title to protect ranchers from drought and disasters,” Sombke said. “Even if they put in a one-year extension, it still doesn’t implement programs to assist ranchers.”
Many of the current farm bill policies expire on Sept. 30, and if a new bill isn’t passed, Varilek said, farmers would be the ones who suffer. When asked why he thought the bill was stuck, Varilek said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, doesn’t think he has the votes to pass the bill.
“In particular he can’t get enough tea party votes to pass the bill,” Varilek said.
While some conservative tea party members are calling for more cuts to the bill, some Democrats are already balking at the cuts to SNAP. The House bill eliminates categorical eligibility, which allows states to determine if households qualify for SNAP benefits based on their qualification for other low income assistance programs.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates 1.8 million Americans would lose SNAP eligibility under the House plan, and 280,000 K-12 children would also lose free lunch eligibility at school — children in households that receive SNAP funding automatically qualify for free school lunch.
South Dakota currently uses a type of categorical eligibility that allows households to qualify for SNAP benefits if they are receiving cash or certain non-cash benefits, such as child care, through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The House bill would force South Dakota to remove that automatic qualification.
The South Dakota Department of Social Services is still analyzing the potential impact of H.R. 6083 on South Dakota’s SNAP program, said the department’s communications director, Kristin Kellar.
More than 100,000 South Dakotans have received SNAP benefits every month since October 2010.