4 months ago from DTN AgDay
Compromise that will likely save the government more than $8 billion over 10 years
Conference negotiators on the farm bill will raise the levels of home-heating assistance a person or family must receive before they automatically qualify for food stamps, a compromise that will likely save the government more than $8 billion over 10 years.
While the four key negotiators in the farm bill have largely kept a lid on details of their compromise framework, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, spoke in a conference call Thursday about some of the details on the cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP.
Harkin is a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a conferee, but he hasn't been part of the behind-closed-doors talks of the four principal members from the House and Senate. Harkin told reporters he spoke with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., about the nutrition cuts. Harkin doesn't like the level of SNAP cuts, "but I think we can live with it."
The Senate version of the farm bill will cut $3.9 billion from SNAP over 10 years while the final version of the House nutrition will cut $39 billion over 10 years. An $8 billion cut might be considered too high for the Democratic-controlled Senate while being too low for the Republican-controlled House.
The SNAP cuts would center on the way states enroll people in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly called LIHEAP. Under current law, states are allowed to automatically enroll people in SNAP if they qualify for LIHEAP. That has led to some states boosting SNAP rolls by merely giving someone a LIHEAP payment as low as a $1.
"Some states were gaming this LIHEAP thing," Harkin said.
The Senate bill raised the LIHEAP qualifier to $10 for a state to enroll someone in SNAP. The House bill raised the LIHEAP requirement to a $20 subsidy and was projected by the Congressional Budget Office as saving the government $8.69 billion in nutrition programs over 10 years, which is right in the ballpark of the projected estimates coming out about the conference report.
"The Senate bill sets it at $10," Harkin said. "The compromise sets it at $20. So in other words, you will not automatically qualify for the SNAP program unless you have at least $20 in LIHEAP money per year. I think we can live with that."
The compromise also would not allow anyone to be instantly cut off from the SNAP program that is already enrolled. "That's a good added protection," Harkin said.
Lawmakers are already taking traditional stances on the topic. The Wall Street Journal quoted Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., another conferee, saying he had a problem with any SNAP cuts that would make hunger worse. Some conservative House members have said $8 billion is not enough in cuts. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., who is also a farmer, issued a news release Wednesday expressing his disappointment that the farm bill would merge nutrition programs back into the fold. The House voted largely along party lines in September to divide the agriculture and nutrition programs.
"As a farmer and a conservative, I cannot vote for a farm bill that reverses a key reform to separate farm policy and food stamps," Stutzman stated. "Earlier this year, the House won a historic victory for transparency and common sense by rejecting a bloated, trillion-dollar spending package that was a farm bill in name only and instead passing farm and food stamp legislation separately. The conference committee should continue that work by including separate reauthorization dates for these different programs. Now is not the time for Congress to take a step backwards by returning to business as usual."
In his conference call, Harkin also said that it was Stabenow's decision not to push for another extension in the 2008 farm bill, but added he thought that was "wise." From everything he has seen, Harkin said there are just a few items not finished, so he expects the legislation would be finished in January.