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Farm Bill deadline draws increased...

Farm Bill deadline draws increased partisan attention to future SNAP payment policies

By: Sid Salter - May 15, 2024

Sid Salter

  • As the poorest state in the union and a food-producing state, utilizing and using SNAP is an extremely relevant economic discussion in Mississippi each year.

On Capitol Hill, the calendar is driving increased partisan attention on the new U.S. Farm Bill. The current 2018 Farm Bill will expire on Sept. 30. Congress and President Joe Biden extended the five-year original term of the bill on Nov. 16, 2023.

The headlines are already gravitating to the most populist facet of the complex Farm Bill legislation, which is the future direction of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. As the poorest state in the union and a food-producing state, utilizing and using SNAP is an extremely relevant economic discussion in Mississippi each year.

House Agriculture Chair Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., unveiled his Farm Bill summary proposal earlier this month. Thompson’s plan quickly drew criticism from the Biden administration and liberal think tanks like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) because of a proposed freeze on the so-called “Thrifty Food Plan.” The TFP is the cost mechanism for SNAP benefits and freezing those costs, Democrats say, will effectively result in a cut in the program for recipients.

Critics say Thompson’s summary of the next Farm Bill would result in $28 billion in cuts to the SNAP program. But conservatives fear that SNAP is plagued with systemic fraud and waste and see SNAP reforms as key to reining in overall federal spending.

The CBPP’s review of Thompson’s proposal was ominous: “This proposal would limit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority to adjust the cost of the TFP to accurately reflect the cost of a frugal, healthy diet. USDA would be required to regularly undertake a rigorous and resource-intensive evaluation that would only ever result in a single pre-determined outcome: the cost of a healthy diet would remain unchanged, regardless of scientific evidence to the contrary.

“The nation’s most important anti-hunger program, SNAP is highly effective at reducing hunger and poverty; SNAP participation is also linked to better outcomes for education, health, and economic security. It is critical that the farm bill protect SNAP from harmful cuts and policy changes, including Chair Thompson’s proposal, which would weaken the program’s ability to meet its core mission,” the review held.

Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released a Farm Bill summary that advocated another extension of the 2018 Farm Bill along with adjustments in conservation funds to climate change programs. The Senate version avoids TFP changes, thereby providing the means for growth in the SNAP program. Many House Republicans advocate not merely the TFP changes to freeze food stamp spending, but deeper cuts in the SNAP program.

Sen. Stabenow has resisted prior congressional attempts to reduce SNAP benefits and argues in favor of a more comprehensive approach to pass a bipartisan 2024 Farm Bill before the Sept. deadline:

Stabenow said: “I am glad to see the family safety net is working. Nutrition spending in the SNAP program is decreasing as the economy improves, food prices stabilize, and fewer people need SNAP.

“But the broader trends make abundantly clear what I have been saying for months: If we are serious about passing a Farm Bill that keeps farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong, the time to act is now.

“Farming has always been one of the riskiest businesses there is, and that is why we need to invest in the tools that support all farmers and think creatively about new solutions that provide targeted and timely assistance to help them meet the emerging challenges they face.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in three (32.1%) of Mississippians are eligible for SNAP benefits. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service listed Mississippi’s average monthly SNAP benefits at $157.84 per person or $322.12 per household.

Federal Reserve Economic Data found a total of 409,158 SNAP recipients in Mississippi in June 2022. The Mississippi Department of Human Services reported SNAP program costs at $837.98 million.

Nationally, the cost of the program rose precipitously from $17 billion in 2000 to some $119.5 billion last year. Participation has risen from 17 million in 2000 to more than 41.2 million in 2023.

With seats on the Agriculture Committees in their respective chambers, Mississippi U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, and U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Tupelo, will be in a position to help shape the new Farm Bill.

About the Author(s)
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Sid Salter

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications at Mississippi State University. Sid is a member of the Mississippi Press Association's Hall of Fame. His syndicated columns have been published in Mississippi and several national newspapers since 1978.