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Congressional Farm Bill Fails In The House, And Californians Have Mixed Feelings About It

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, joined from left by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

The House of Representatives failed to pass a farm bill on Friday. The reason it died: Lawmakers voted against targeted cuts to safety net program like food stamps. But those that work with low-income residents who use these programs had mixed feelings about the bill’s failure.

Andrew Cheyne, with the California Association of Food Banks, says he wanted to support the farm bill, but couldn’t because it would be a major blow to people who rely on food assistance.

“We unfortunately had to oppose this bill, which would have made such damaging cuts,” Cheyne said. “But we want to see a farm bill.”

One of the sticking points was a change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which includes access to food stamps. Under current rules, adults with dependents aren’t required to work at least 20 hours per week to receive benefits. Republican Rep. Mike Conway amended the farm bill to include a requirement for all parents to work. If they don’t meet that quota, they could lose SNAP benefits for a year.

On Friday, every Democrat and 30 Republicans voted against the farm bill. It has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, but the cuts to SNAP caused a rift.

Cheyne is relieved the bill failed, but he’s hesitant to celebrate. That’s because he says Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has already started efforts to revive the bill, and lawmakers are scheduled to vote on it again soon.

Jared Call with California Food Policy Advocates said his group and others will be lobbying against the latest farm bill.  

“Those of us who support our low income friends and neighbors who need some help putting food on the table are going to continue to keep in contact with those members of Congress who voted no,” he said, “to let them know that we appreciate their vote and we would hope and expect that they would stick to that.”

Republicans who are in favor of the SNAP changes say they want to make sure people who can work are actually working or are searching for jobs.

The farm bill also adds a variety of programs for farmers, such as risk management programs, education, and outreach to new farmers and ranchers.

Josh Rolph, federal policy manager at the California Farm Bureau Federation, says his feelings about the farm bill have to be nuanced, because he understands there’s a direct connection between rural farmers and urban consumers.

“For us to say that ‘Hey, we’re going to go all in because the farm programs benefit only farmers,’ we see it more broadly at Farm Bureau, that there’s a direct relationship between farm programs and nutrition,” Rolph said.

More than 4 million Californians use CalFresh, the state’s version of SNAP, to get groceries.

Cheyne with the state’s Food Bank Association said the proposed changes in the new bill would send more low-income residents looking for food assistance.

“It’s important to understand that private charities, like food banks, we are already struggling to meet the need and we would be overwhelmed if this bill were to become law,” Cheyne said.  

In addition to the SNAP cuts, the farm bill also failed because of the debate over immigration policy.

Republicans from the House Freedom Caucus who voted against the bill did so because they want votes for an immigration bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte from Virgina, that doesn’t include a path to citizenship.

Democrats and moderate Republicans want protections on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Rolph with the Farm Bureau says the Republican’s plan would send every single farmworker back to their home country.

“We need a bill that addresses the realities of farming and working on a farm,” Rolph said. “I don’t know if we can do that in the next 48 hours, but we are certainly having those talks.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the farm bill early next week.  

Adhiti Bandlamudi

NPR Kroc Fellow

Adhiti Bandlamudi is a visiting NPR Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she has worked as a reporter for the National Desk and as a producer for Weekend All Things Considered and Planet Money.   Read Full Bio 

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