WASHINGTON – House and Senate negotiators hope to hammer out a consensus on a farm bill before the end of the year in what will likely be a contentious battle over food stamps.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, are among the 41 lawmakers chosen to serve on the conference committee tasked with bridging the differences between House- and Senate-approved bills.
The Arkansas lawmakers are hopeful that an agreement can be struck in time for Congress to approve a final bill before the year ends. The group will likely begin formal negotiations in another week – when the House and Senate are back in session. The Senate will not return until Oct. 28.
“Informally, the staffs already have been at work trying to address these issues and doing everything they can to expedite the process,” Crawford said in an interview last week.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who will chair the conference, also hopes to have the negotiations wrapped up sooner rather than later.
“The quicker we get our work done and off the field the better off everyone in rural America is and, by the way, the better off every consumer is,” said Lucas in a recent interview with the Oklahoma Farm Report.
Agriculture programs expired on Oct. 1 after Congress failed to reauthorize or extend the old farm bill. The House and Senate approved separate versions of the farm bill earlier this year with differing approaches to farm subsidies and how deep to cut nutrition assistance provided through food stamps.
The House bill would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $39 billion while the Senate bill cuts $4 billion over 10 years. The House also wants to add a work requirement to SNAP.
Both the House and Senate would eliminate a program that allows individuals participating in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program from automatically qualifying for food stamps.
About half of the House would also eliminate a “categorical” eligibility to bypass SNAP assessment limits. An estimated 1.2 million people would lose food stamps annually, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Boozman and Crawford expect food stamps will be the major stumbling block to reaching consensus between the two chambers.
“There will be a lot of time and focus on that - $4 billion versus $40 billion is a pretty big gap,” Crawford said. “Our (House) approach has been to focus on reforms with the idea being to maximize limited resources and target it to folks who genuinely need it.”
Boozman expects both sides can reach agreement somewhere in the middle.
“I think we will be able to reach some compromise. It is possible to do this without impacting people who are genuinely needy – those who truly need the benefit,” said in an interview last week.
On farm issues, Boozman and Crawford said they are looking to make sure that all regions and crops are treated fairly when it comes to providing a safety net against losses. In other words, they want to protect rice and peanut growers in Arkansas as best they can.
“The safety net needs to protect all regions and crops. I think we can come together on that,” Boozman said.
“We can’t adopt a one-size-fits-all shallow loss system that is why we like producer choice that is in the House bill,” Crawford said.
The House bill provides more support to rice, barley and peanuts producers while the Senate bill provides more support to corn and soybean producers, according to an analysis by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.