The “big four” from the congressional agriculture committees met in person Wednesday to continue work on the 2018 Farm Bill.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., sat down with ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to try to come to an agreement on a 2018 Farm Bill. The group has been working on a united Farm Bill over the past few months ahead of the expiration of the former farm bill Sept. 30.
The legislators released a joint statement on the progress of the Farm Bill.
“Each of us is still at the negotiating table, and we remain committed to working together on a Farm Bill,” the legislators said in the statement. “Our conversations are productive, and progress toward an agreement is taking shape. We are going to get this right.”
If the 2014 Farm Bill, which is currently in place, expires Sunday night without a replacement, programs under the farm bill will revert to the last permanent farm bill, which took effect in 1949.
The legislature can also vote to extend the 2014 law, but Roberts does not think an extension is necessary, according to a member of his staff.
"It will be almost legislatively impossible, and would be a minor miracle to get it done this week,” Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said.
Marshall serves on the House Ag Committee, which included stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in its version of the Farm Bill. Stronger work requirements for SNAP have been an ongoing point of contention between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
"I'd like to see some kind of worker training," Marshall said. "We've got 9 million people on food stamps and we need a process for lifting people out of poverty."
Critics say the additional work requirements will eliminate or reduce SNAP assistance to nearly 1 million low-income families.
Under current law, SNAP recipients ages 18 to 59 are required to work at least a part-time job or take a job if offered to them unless they are pregnant, disabled or otherwise exempt. Unemployed, childless adults are required to find a job within three months or they lose benefits.
The new House bill proposes a single standard for all non-pregnant, able-bodied adults ages 18 to 59. Even adults with children enrolled in SNAP would be required to hold at least a part-time job within one month of applying for SNAP benefits. An exemption is included for adults with children under the age of six.
The House bill also proposes funding an expansion of state “workfare” programs. For the first time, enrollment in these programs would be mandated for unemployed, working age SNAP recipients, not otherwise exempt.
Similar work requirements were a no-go in the Senate, and Roberts has fought against the inclusion of the requirements, on the basis that he knows it will not pass the Senate. The bill even failed on its first vote in the House.
The dispute over SNAP has not been the only hang up on completing a unified Farm Bill. The legislators are still working to finalize spending priorities and details of conservation and commodity titles.
If the Farm Bill is not passed by Sunday, the legislation could be voted on in a lame-duck session, following the midterm elections.
Critics have said allowing the 2014 Farm Bill to expire could be devastating to certain farm programs, even eliminating some altogether, as well as moving some back to antiquated systems. However, legislators believe the brief return to the 1949 bill will not have a large impact.
Roberts has stated on multiple occasions that he is ready to finish up and pass a Farm Bill to return “certainty and predictability” to U.S. farmers.