WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led House has narrowly passed a sweeping farm bill that would toughen work requirements for food stamp recipients.
The bill passed by a vote of 213-211. Democrats unanimously opposed the measure, saying it would toss too many people off government food assistance. But 20 Republicans also voted no, giving GOP leaders a brief scare in what was their second attempt to pass a farm bill. In May, they suffered an embarrassing setback when 30 GOP members opposed passage in an effort to get a vote on immigration legislation.
The measure renews the safety net for farmers at a time when President Donald Trump's tough talk on tariffs threatens to close off foreign markets for many of their products.
The House bill sets up a certain clash with the Senate, which is looking to make mostly modest adjustments to existing agriculture programs in its bill without picking a fight over food stamps.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he believed there were concerns among some GOP lawmakers about the amount of spending in the bill as well as changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
"I knew it was going to be razor-thin," Conaway said of the vote.
The bill requires able-bodied adults aged 18-59 to work or participate in job training for 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamp benefits that average about $450 a month for a family of four. Government auditors estimate that in 10 years, the SNAP caseload would shrink by about 1.2 million people in an average month if the bill becomes law.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the changes will "close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and encourage people to move from welfare to work, so more Americans have the opportunity to tap into the economic prosperity we're seeing right now."
The legislation has traditionally been bipartisan, blending support from urban Democrats supporting nutrition programs with farm-state lawmakers supporting crop insurance, farm credit, and land conservation. The Senate earlier this month unveiled a budget-neutral and bipartisan bill. A Senate committee approved the legislation last week, 20-1.
Although the House bill broke from that bipartisan convention, its position on work requirements for SNAP recipients is consistent with the Trump administration's priorities. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to enforce existing work requirements and review all programs, waivers and exemptions.
The measure also limits circumstances under which families who qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be eligible for SNAP, and earmarks $1 billion to expand work training programs.
Democrats have expressed outrage over the bill, with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi calling it "cruel and destructive."
Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democratic lawmaker on the House Agriculture Committee, said the bill "simply doesn't do enough for the people it's supposed to serve."
"It still leaves farmers and ranchers vulnerable, it worsens hunger and it fails rural communities," Peterson said.
Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz released the following statement after the vote on the farm bill:
“I represent the ninth largest agricultural-producing district in the nation. I came to Congress in part to help write Farm Bills. I came to Congress to try and get policy right. I came to work together with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. What Republicans did today – namely, jamming through an ideological bill that lacks bipartisan support, failed to go through the regular bipartisan process, and abandons our farmers, consumers, veterans and hungry families with children – is not how Congress is supposed to function. It is not how a democracy is supposed to function.
“Instead of supporting farmers’ conservation efforts by enhancing programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) as my SOIL Stewardship Act would do, Republicans voted to cut working lands programs and eliminate CSP. Instead of investing in our small-town businesses and rural communities, Republicans voted to eliminate the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Instead of doing all they can to help facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge and land between current and future generations of producers as my Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act would do, Republicans failed to scale up and permanently reauthorize the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Perhaps most indefensibly, instead of strengthening and making commonsense improvements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – the most effective anti-hunger program in U.S. history and a source of economic vitality in southern Minnesota – Republicans voted to risk creating barriers to access for veterans and vulnerable families with children who rely on the program, which helps keep 16,000 veterans from going to bed hungry in Minnesota alone.
“The Farm Bill process used to be an example for how things are supposed to be done in Washington. Today, Republicans chose to once again follow the lead of Speaker Ryan and steamroll the bipartisan process the Agriculture Committee once championed.
“This cannot continue to be how things are done in Washington. If Republicans don’t set aside their ideological differences, reject the outside influence of powerful political donors, and work together with Democrats on areas where we agree, they will continue to propel the toxic culture in Congress.
“Folks back home in the First District are fed up with the hyper-partisanship in D.C. What they want is for us to work together to get things done. I’ve tried to live up to this reasonable expectation every single day. At such a critical time in our democracy, I implore my Republican colleagues in the House to reverse course and work with Democrats on a Farm Bill that truly works for farmers and all who rely on it.”