This week, the Senate is poised to release its version of the 2018 Farm Bill. We anticipate that the Senate version will look vastly different from the House version as both Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have acknowledge that it will make limited changes to the SNAP program. For example, the bill won’t cut benefits for current beneficiaries, or require stricter eligibility requirements. Harmful policies for retailers that NGA has been fighting, such as the Administration’s “Harvest Box” proposal, new fees, and expensive reporting requirements, are not a part of the legislation. Since limited changes are expected on the SNAP program funding, less funds are made available for nutrition incentive programs, such as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program (aka “Double Up Food Bucks”). However, it makes positive changes sought by NGA to make the program more retail-centric.
On the House side, discussions remain ongoing about teeing up a second vote on the House Farm Bill. After its failure on the House floor, House leadership and Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) are trying to win over Republican members who voted against the bill. The Chairman reports that he feels confident there are enough votes for the measure to pass on a second go, but the delay is giving outside groups who are opposed to the measure significant time to rally opposition. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus promised to vote in favor of the legislation after the House considers immigration legislation. Republican Leadership promised votes on immigration and the Farm Bill during the month of June, but it remains unclear on if they will deliver since doing so risks significant political backlash.
Next steps in the process include marking up the Senate bill through Committee before its consideration on the Senate floor. Since the legislation is bipartisan, it’s substantially more likely to attract enough votes to pass the Senate and avoid a filibuster. If the House is unable to pass their version of the bill, Congress will have two options to avoid a lapse in Farm program funding. The House could either pass the Senate bill, or extend current Farm program funding past its September 30th expiration. This would give the House a second chance to either reconsider the bill in a “lame duck” session of Congress, or punt until the next Congress.
As Congress continues the hard work of reauthorizing nutrition programs in the Farm Bill, NGA will be meeting with lawmakers to ensure the voice of the independent supermarket industry is represented throughout this process. NGA will support Farm Bill legislation that maintains a strong public-private partnership between the federal government and the private retail sector in SNAP, reauthorizes and expands the FINI program and other healthy food incentive programs, rejects any new fees or excessive reporting mandates, and protects private SNAP retailer sales data. Stay tuned. We could be in for quite a ride.