H.R. 3102, the “Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013’’ will be considered on the House floor later today. The 109-page bill, which would take steps to reform the $80 billion per year food stamp and nutrition programs, is being considered on its own, separate from agricultural titles.
Recent background for this story is necessary. Food stamp programs have traditionally been included in farm bills – those omnibus bills that every five years hand out the largess that every farm product receives from taxpayers’ funds. This year’s farm bill was no different. Both the Senate and the House voted on farm bills that included both elements. The Senate passed its legislation on June 10, 2013. But the outcome in the House was a lot different: On June 20, 2013, the $940 billion farm bill was killed on a 195-234 vote, mainly because Democrats were opposed to an included amendment that would have given states the option of running pilot programs for instituting work requirements for food stamp recipients.
Some principled Republicans also voted against the bloated bill because few agricultural reforms were included and few amendments were allowed to be considered. CEI and other free-market groups called for the bills to be split in two, so that the agriculture programs would be considered separately from the nutrition and food stamp program and could be considered on their own merits. A split would also drive a wedge into the unholy alliance and deal-making between rural farmers and urban food stamp proponents.
Guess what the House leadership did? It indeed did split the bill, but reintroduced the agriculture bill as H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM Act) in its same form but also including a provision that would make the legislation permanent. CEI sent a letter to House members that pointed out:
Besides greatly expanding the heavily subsidized crop insurance program, the House bill does nothing to rein in the central planning schemes represented by the sugar program and the dairy program.
This bill would also make itself the permanent law for farm programs to replace the 1949 legislation. That takes the future of agricultural programs out of the hands of policymakers -no longer will they have to deal with a farm bill every five years. Instead, they can do nothing and revert to this travesty of farm bill reform.
The bill was considered under a closed rule, so that no amendments could be voted on. It passed 216-208 on July 11, 2013.
Now today’s consideration of H.R. 3102 – the separate food stamp and nutrition provisions – is sure to be contentious. The bill attempts to make some modest reforms in these programs, which currently represent about 80 percent of the total cost of the current farm bill. Over 10 years, about $39 billion would be cut – about 5 percent of the total program expenses. Reforms would include work requirements and tightening up some of the loose eligibility requirements of the states. Democrats are sure to continue their assault on these reforms, with Rep. Nancy Pelosi claiming that they take “food out of the mouths of babes.”
The food stamp and nutrition bill is a modest start toward real reform of a program that was intended to help the needy, but is now marketed to and used by a broad base of the public. The bad-case scenario is that whether the bill passes or not, the House and Senate may go to conference and put a farm bill back together that includes the bloated agricultural provisions and few, if any, reforms of the food and nutrition programs.