Democrats in the House of Representatives are stalling negotiations on the Farm Bill, the massive bill that authorizes spending agriculture programs, over potential changes to the food stamps program.
The 19 Democrats the House Committee on Agriculture said in a letter sent Thursday they had “grown increasingly concerned about the nutrition policies being pushed by the majority,” particularly those regarding the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps.
“Items you have broadly outlined in your meetings with us and that have been reported in the press are a significant cause of concern,” the letter, released by Agri-Pulse, said.
Food stamps are a critical part of the Farm Bill, and usually serves a bipartisan function by attracting Democratic support to legislation that also governs farm subsidies. Usually SNAP has support from both Republicans and Democrats, but with President Donald Trump’s administration proposing deep cuts to the program and changes to the structure, Democrats have become worried.
“My next steps are clear and I will not be continuing negotiations with the chairman per the unanimous request of all Democratic members of the committee,” Democratic Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, told Politico.
“I’m not sure where this will take us but it will give the members information about what is actually being proposed,” Peterson said, adding that he wants Republican Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, chairman of the committee, to release the text of the bill as well as any scoring from the Congressional Budget Office on the effects of the bill. The current legislation expires in September.
Conaway insists that any proposed changes to the SNAP program will be based on policy, not money. “I have made it clear that policy, not budget cuts, will govern the writing of this farm bill, including SNAP,” Conaway told Politico earlier in March. “In fact, not one person would be forced off SNAP due to the work or training requirements we have been discussing. Not one.”
The SNAP program exploded under former President Barack Obama during the Great Recession. The cost and number of participants has steadily decreased over the past four years due in part to reinstatement of work requirements for able-bodied individuals without dependents, requirements that the Obama administration waived.
Currently more than 40 million people take food stamps, and the Department of Agriculture spent $68 billion on the food benefit program in 2017, according to recent data.
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