The Republican-led U.S. House narrowly passed a sweeping farm bill Thursday that would toughen work requirements for food stamp recipients.
Central Missouri legislators and farm groups hailed the passage of a new farm bill by the House. The legislation backs critical crop insurance safety nets for farmers. Changes to food stamp programs could prevent the bill from being passed before the existing farm bill expires Sept. 30.
In Mid-May, the first version of the farm bill failed to pass amid fighting between Republicans and Democrats and infighting among Republicans over unrelated immigration bills. In its second vote Thursday, the bill narrowly passed 213-211.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, voted for the bill. In a statement, Luetkemeyer said the bill helps rural Americans.
“I voted in support of this bill to ensure stability for our Missouri farmers and strengthen our rural communities,” he said in the statement. “I understand how hard farmers work to put food on our tables.”
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Columbia, who sits on the House Committee on Agriculture, said in a statement that the farm bill makes significant investments in rural broadband, trade and ag research.
“This bill ensures the American consumer continues to enjoy the safest, most abundant food supply in the world by strengthening safeguards and improving programs that are vital to American agriculture,” she said in the statement.
Farming groups also hailed the passage of the farm bill. In a news release, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said the farm bill backs critical crop insurance programs farmers need to survive.
“Farming is unpredictable, and the huge costs of doing business can be lost in a single storm,” Hurst said in a news release. “The farm bill has helped farmers manage these risks for decades so we can survive the bad years and continue to feed, clothe and fuel the world.”
Empower Missouri, which advocates on issues affecting Missourians’ health and welfare, criticized the passage.
“There has been a longstanding bipartisan commitment to making sure people who are struggling have enough to eat,” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri. “How disappointing that U.S. House members voted for measures that would increase hunger in Missouri.”
Democrats unanimously opposed the measure, saying it would toss too many people off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. In May, 30 GOP members opposed passage of the bill, but just 20 voted no Thursday.
About 80 percent of funding in the existing $1 trillion farm bill goes toward the SNAP program. The House farm bill passed Thursday requires able-bodied adults ages 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 in 10 years, the SNAP caseload would shrink by about 1.2 million people in an average month if the bill becomes law.
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.
Protecting and strengthening SNAP is the right public policy approach, Oxford said in a statement, instead of cutting this program that has had such a long record of success in reducing malnutrition-related illnesses and producing lifelong positive outcomes in the lives of children.
In a statement, Hartzler called the reforms to SNAP “historic improvements” that will help people break the cycle of poverty.
“This bill promotes work and individual success while empowering those dependent on government assistance,” Hartzler said. “These common-sense improvements will reduce unemployment and help people move from dependency to independence and self-sufficiency.”
The bill renews safety nets 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. Crop insurance programs, which protect farmers in the event of sudden price declines or weather events, make up 8 percent of the current bill.
The House bill sets up a certain clash with the U.S. Senate, which is looking to make mostly modest adjustments to existing agriculture programs in its bill without picking a fight over food stamps.
Oxford with Empower Missouri said: “We call on Senators (Roy) Blunt and (Claire) McCaskill to support the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill and reject any harmful amendments that would duplicate the flaws in the House bill.”
Hurst hopes a new farm bill can pass both chambers before the existing farm bill expires Sept. 30.
“We are optimistic about the prospects of the U.S. Senate passing their version of the bill on time and providing certainty for farmers over the next five years,” Hurst said in a statement. “With crop and livestock prices entering their fifth consecutive year of low prices, we need a full five-year farm bill now more than ever.”
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas and a member of that chamber’s agriculture appropriations subcommittee, said Thursday a new farm bill will not likely pass both chambers before the current bill expires.
“If history is any indication, we will not be done by Sept. 30 with the farm bill,” Moran said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.