With hunger, climate cuts, US House farm bill proposal faces slim Senate odds

By Thomson Reuters May 17, 2024 | 9:02 AM

By Leah Douglas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House Agriculture Committee on Friday released a long-awaited farm bill draft that includes provisions to reduce spending on food aid for the poor and efforts to help farmers fight climate change, drawing opposition from Democrats.

Congress faces steep odds to pass a farm bill this session as the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-majority Senate remain far apart. The bill is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

The legislation, which funds nutrition, conservation, and commodity programs, is traditionally passed every five years. The 2018 law expired in September, and Congress extended it for a year. Lawmakers could do that again if they fail to pass new legislation.

The draft presented by the House Agriculture Committee would cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which funds food benefits for low-income families, by $27 billion over 10 years, a committee aide said.

The savings result from restricting the Department of Agriculture’s authority to update the cost of a sample grocery budget that underlies the benefit calculation.

Anti-hunger groups have said they oppose any cuts.

The House bill would also rescind as much as $14.4 billion for climate-friendly farm practices provided by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. That money would become available for all conservation practices, a move Democrats and environmental groups have vowed to fight.

Democrat Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said the idea is a “non-starter.” The White House has also pledged to protect the funds.

A Republican committee aide said the move would increase conservation funding for farmers over the long term and give states more control over how the money is used.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson plans to bring the draft to a committee vote on May 23.

Stabenow and fellow Democrat David Scott, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that the plan would “split the broad, bipartisan coalition that has always been the foundation of a successful farm bill.”

The Senate farm committee released a summary of its version of the bill on May 1 but has not released the legislation’s language.

The two committees must reconcile their bills before sending the legislation to the full chambers for a vote. If passed, President Joe Biden would need to sign it into law.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas; editing by Timothy Gardner and Cynthia Osterman)