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April could “make or break” farm bill

Photo by Ben Nuelle

April could be a turning point in deciding the fate of a 2018 farm bill. Lawmakers return from spring break the week after next but remain far apart on a House version, with no formal action scheduled yet in either ag committee. House Ag Republicans want to tighten up state waivers for food stamp work requirements. Democrats object. Talks are stalled.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says SNAP was meant to help the truly needy, like people affected by a plant closing or major health issue.

“We want those truly in need, in those situations, to get even more. But the fact is, when people make it a part of their permanent lifestyle to stack up benefits from the state, local , federal government that’s when we want to send a signal that we want people to have the dignity of a job, to care for their own families in an independent way,” Perdue said.

Democrats argue even tighter work requirements will be a hardship. They may also see a chance to bargain for a more favorable bill if they regain the House majority in November—something Perdue is well aware of.

“2018 is an even numbered year, and we have things happening in this country in even numbered. And that’s elections. Unfortunately, the farm bill can’t totally overcome the politics that get involved in the farm bill,” Perdue said.

But American Farm Bureau Executive Director Dale Moore, who’s been through seven or eight farm bills, calls himself “an optimist.”

“When you look at the history of farm bills coming together, I truly believe we’re going to see some pretty amazing efforts on both committees part to get their respective farm bills done, and certainly make every effort to hit that September 30th deadline of this year or really be close to getting it finished,” Moore said.

Past farm bills have taken as long as two-years or more to finish. Lawmakers had hoped to wrap up an ’18 bill last year, but blamed tax reform, and the budget and spending bills, for what’s turned into a six-month delay.

One silver-lining is a head-start with budget improvements for cotton and dairy programs.