Keeping Americans fed

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the problems farmers face keeping Americans fed.

Over the past four years, farm income has dropped each year. More than half of American farms lose money.

Now, the struggles facing farmers aren’t especially new, and that’s why Congress every five years passes legislation to try to provide at least some stability.

But this year the farm bill is tied up with squabbles over food stamps, work requirements, and more.

Congress comes back into session next week.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Laura Finch has been covering this story in The Stew. That’s the weekly political roundup on WORLD Digital. She’s here to talk about it.

So, Laura, the last time we spoke, we weren’t sure if the House was going to put aside their squabbling long enough to do this. Now they have, is that right?

LAURA FINCH, REPORTER: Yes, the House passed their version of the farm bill last month.

And then what about the Senate?

FINCH: So, the Senate has also passed a version of the farm bill with some big differences. Their version leaves most policies alone, including farm subsidies, which many people were hoping they would address. But the biggest thing is that their version didn’t touch SNAP, which stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That’s better known as food stamps and it takes up about 80 percent of farm bill spending. One in eight Americans participated last year, which is more than 42 million people.

Okay then how is that different from what the House passed?

FINCH: Well, the most notable is what the House did to work requirements. Many people don’t realize this, but the government already requires able-bodied adults to work 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps. So that means individuals between the ages of 18 and 49 who aren’t pregnant, don’t have young kids at home, and don’t have disabilities, they need to be working part-time.

There are exemptions for each of those things, I understand. Is that right?

FINCH: Right, right. So, if you are able-bodied, as they call it, but not working, you’re currently limited as to the amount of food stamps you can get. You can only receive three months worth of assistance in every 36-month period. But ultimately the House took out that time limit completely, so if a participant doesn’t hit that 20-hour mark every week, they would get nothing. Currently, though, states also have the ability to opt-out of the time-limit requirement altogether.

So the states can also get exemptions, then?

FINCH: Yes, so basically if a state feels it would be too burdensome to implement these rules for some reason, whether that’s because the economy is bad or there aren’t a lot of jobs at a particular time, they can get a waiver for a certain region. And then the time limit doesn’t even apply to them. And states love to use these waivers. They are very popular. Forty-nine states have used them at some point or another and a committee aide told me that one-third of the country is currently under waiver. And, in her opinion, unnecessarily so. So, the House bill really limits the states’ abilities to get those waivers from now on.

Well, suppose somebody can’t find a job. They’re really trying, but they just can’t. Is there any remedy available for that person?

FINCH: Yes, actually. As it is, spending time in a work training program also counts toward the 20-hour requirement. But states aren’t obligated to offer job training, so most do not. The House bill would require states to offer both job training and case management.

So, Laura, what happens next?

FINCH: Well, as you know, the House and Senate have to pass identical farm bills before it can go to the president. So, the next thing that happens will be a conference committee. A few members from each side of the aisle from both the House and the Senate will meet in a room to hammer out these details and then they’ll bring them back up for a vote in each chamber. We don’t know yet who those conferees will be, but both the House and Senate come back into session next week. And the current farm bill expires September 30th.

Laura Finch writes for The Stew, which is our weekly political roundup. Thanks for this update, Laura.

FINCH: Thank you, Mary.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik) Young corn plants grow in a field in rural Ashland, Neb., Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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