On Thursday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) introduced a draft Farm Bill that runs counter to what farmers and eaters across the country need. Among other disappointments, the bill would eliminate the country's largest conservation program, allow concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to claim limited conservation dollars, place no meaningful limitations on subsidy payments to large farms, and remove all mandatory funding for Energy Title programs. The proposed nutrition title is just as egregious; the bill would impose more stringent work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, which would likely reduce SNAP enrollment by about a million recipients.
"This draft Farm Bill insults all the work farmers and advocates have been undertaking to advance sustainable agriculture. Funding is proposed to be cut or completely eliminated for many programs that small farmers, organic farmers, and business owners need to thrive," said Tara Ritter, Senior Program Associate at IATP.
Perhaps the most notable program elimination is that of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which currently offers support to farmers undertaking conservation activities on over 70 million acres of land across the country. Without CSP, farmers would have no assistance to implement whole-farm conservation plans, which would result in less resilient farms and increased pollution. The money from CSP wouldn’t be funneled into other conservation programs, either; the draft Farm Bill proposes to cut funding for all working lands conservation programs by $7.1 billion (20 percent) over 10 years. To make things worse, CAFOs would be eligible to receive more conservation dollars than they have in the past. This would make funding even more scarce for farmers wanting to implement meaningful conservation plans on their land.
The draft Farm Bill isn't only bad for farmers; it would also deal a blow to people who need nutrition assistance. The draft Farm Bill increases work requirements for all able-bodied adults of working age, including parents, in order to be eligible for SNAP benefits. The draft Farm Bill would also make it more difficult to get waivers from the work rules. Currently, 3.5 million SNAP recipients are subject to work rules. The provisions in this bill could raise that number to between 5.5 and 6.5 million. This bill offers no leeway for people who are temporarily unemployed or who have certain other life circumstances limiting their ability to work.
The draft Farm Bill would also disproportionately hurt rural Americans. "Households in rural areas depend upon SNAP benefits more than their urban counterparts. This draft Farm Bill would only serve to deepen inequities and increase political division," said Ritter. From 2012-2016, 15.8 percent of rural households received SNAP benefits, compared to 12.6 percent of urban households.
This draft Farm Bill is a deeply disappointing, partisan attempt to prop up mega-farms and disadvantage smaller, diversified and sustainable operations. It is also an insult to vulnerable families requiring nutrition assistance. As currently written, this bill has little chance of passing on the House floor. We need a Farm Bill that does more to support farmers, eaters, rural communities, and natural resources.