WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday passed a bill that makes
modest modifications to existing farm programs while largely
avoiding changes to food stamps, setting up a showdown with the
The bill passed 86-11.
The legislation renews farm programs such as crop insurance and
land conservation. Farm programs are set to expire Sept. 30
unless Congress acts.
Work on the legislation comes at a time when farmers are facing
low prices and a potential trade war that could depress
commodities prices further.
"We are one step closer to providing farmers and ranchers a Farm
Bill with the certainty and predictability they deserve," said
Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. "I am proud
we have a strong, budget-neutral farm bill with broad support."
GOP aides said the farm bill is expected to go to conference,
where Senate and House leadership will try to reconcile their
differences. On the food stamp front, the two sides are likely
The House bill tightens work requirements for recipients of the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Currently, able-
bodied adults ages 18-49 without children are required to work
20 hours a week to maintain their benefits. The bill raises the
top age of recipients subject to work requirements from 49 to 59
and requires parents with children older than 6 to work or
participate in job training.
Government auditors estimate that in 10 years, the SNAP caseload
would shrink by about 1.2 million people in an average month if
the bill becomes law.
Those changes are consistent with the Trump administration's
priorities. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed an
executive order directing federal agencies to enforce existing
work requirements and review all programs, waivers and
The House measure also limits circumstances under which families
who qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be
eligible for SNAP. It earmarks $1 billion to expand work
The Senate version aims to reduce fraud in SNAP but doesn't cut
funding from the program, which helps feed more than 40 million
people across the United States.
"We improve the SNAP program by providing integrity," Roberts
said prior to the vote. "By cutting bonuses, modernizing the
verification process, we increase accountability in employment
and training programs, we put SNAP participants on the path to
After the bill's passage, House Agriculture Committee Chairman
Mike Conaway, R-Texas, congratulated his counterparts in the
Senate on a "hard-won victory" and said he looks forward to
"working together to send a strong new farm bill to the
Passage of the measure was delayed by a battle over an amendment
from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., barring U.S. taxpayer funds from
being spent on businesses owned by the Cuban military. The
Senate adopted Rubio's amendment Thursday.
"American taxpayer dollars should never go into the pocket of
the Cuban regime," Rubio said.
The Senate bill also includes a provision from Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would legalize the production of
industrial hemp. The commodity is generally barred because it is
related to marijuana, even though it contains little of that
drug's key psychoactive ingredient, THC. McConnell secured a
hemp pilot program in the most recent farm bill in 2014. He
views the crop as a good replacement for tobacco, which is grown
in his home state.
"Our farm families and those across rural America face a lot of
uncertainty: natural disasters, from droughts to floods,
unstable world markets and falling commodity prices," McConnell
said. "The farmers that feed and support this country are
counting on us to provide the predictability and certainty of a
long-term farm bill."
The Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas,
that would have eliminated waivers states are permitted to issue
and required state agencies to operate work activation programs.