Staff Columnist

No need for feds to snip SNAP

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee will debate its chairman's mark-up of the 2018 Farm Bill on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Among other changes, the bill imposes new requirements on Americans who receive food assistance. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
The U.S. House Agriculture Committee will debate its chairman's mark-up of the 2018 Farm Bill on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Among other changes, the bill imposes new requirements on Americans who receive food assistance. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

An interesting thing happened on the way to the 2018 farm bill. It turns out the “Food Stamp President” and his much-maligned nutrition policies were on the right track. Regardless, the GOP majority is hellbent to run them off the rails.

Underpinning each farm bill are projections by the Congressional Budget Office. The math driving current negotiations came earlier this month when the CBO released projections on expected spending for the current budget year and 10 years into the future, or a 10-year baseline. So, Congress has new baselines for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, as well as USDA Mandatory Farm Programs, which include crop insurance, conservation and farm programs.

These baselines show total farm bill spending from 2018 to 2028 to be $867 billion, which is down nearly $90 billion from the last farm bill in January 2014.

The largest share of farm bill expenditures goes to nutrition programs, such as SNAP. When the 2014 farm bill was passed, nutrition programs were expected to cost $796 billion, or 79 percent of the bill’s spending. Today, that figure is down to $664 billion, or roughly 76 percent of total spending.

In fact, total cost savings in SNAP ($93 billion) are more than the overall projected savings of the farm bill ($90 billion). This holds true even as benefits per person are expected to increase alongside inflation because fewer people are expected to need access to nutrition programs. By 2025, according to the CBO, SNAP participation is projected to be below recessionary levels experienced in 2009.

What that means is the much-maligned nutrition and assistance programs under the Obama administration did exactly what they were created and intended to do: help Americans during an economic slump.

Another farm bill savings is expected in federal crop insurance, which the CBO says will decrease by $12 billion. This is largely because of price declines, which reduce total liability but aren’t necessarily good news for America’s farmers.

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Increases come within agricultural industry safety net programs such as Marketing Loan Assistance, Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage, as well as conservation. Projections for 2018 also include expansions of safety nets for cotton and dairy that were made in February as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. Because of declining revenues and commodity prices, farmers have relied on these safety nets and are expected to continue.

But the Congress that saw fit to prop up industry isn’t feeling as generous toward people. The House Agricultural Committee chairman’s markup, scheduled for debate today, includes new requirements for SNAP recipients without young children or disabilities, with more under consideration by the Trump administration.

The changes not only endanger an efficient and cost-effective nutrition program — according to the USDA, every $1 in SNAP benefits results in $1.80 of total economic activity — but place new tension on the long-standing farm bill buy-in from rural and urban lawmakers.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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