Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee are rebelling against Chairman Mike Conaway’s draft farm bill over provisions that would tighten work requirements on able-bodied adults who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The opposition, which developed out of a briefing this week attended by Conaway and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, could force the chairman to delay a planned markup of the bill planned for the week after next.
Peterson “has seen the nutrition title and can’t support it,” said Liz Friedlander, a spokeswoman for committee Democrats. She said, however, that there were ongoing discussions with the Republican side.
Conaway said in a statement Friday that he still wanted the bill to have bipartisan support.
"I have worked with Collin every step of the way on the farm bill draft that our staffs have developed together. I'm proud of the work we've done,” he said.
"I have always intended and continue to hope that this farm bill will be a bipartisan bill. There is no reason that it should not be and every reason it should. Our farmers and ranchers are hurting.”
In an interview with Mike Adams of American Ag Network, Peterson said the bill “hit an impasse” at Wednesday night’s briefing for committee Democrats when they learned about the details of the bill’s nutrition title.
“My side is in revolt,” said Peterson. “There will not be one single vote in committee for this bill if what they have currently in the bill is in there.”
Peterson said Republicans “want to take 8 million people off the rolls,” about 20 percent of SNAP participation, and give the savings “to the states to create a job training bureaucracy.”
Under current law, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) ages 18 to 49 generally must work at least 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits. They can be out of work no more than three months out of every three years unless their state or area has a waiver for USDA because of high unemployment or job scarcity.
A source knowledgeable about the bill said the bill would tighten the waiver rules and increase the number of able-bodied adults subject to the work requirement to include adults with children above the age of 12. Peterson said the age limit would be raised to 65, under the draft bill. The source said that was still subject to negotiation. The savings from tightening the work requirements would be used to expand state employment and training programs.
The source also said that Peterson was given the text of the nutrition title in February and knew about the proposals that would be in it before that.
Conaway insisted that "not one person would be forced off SNAP due to the work or training requirements we have been discussing. Not one. Our approach is not even remotely like the approach taken in 2013 that caused the farm bill to fail.
"I understand that this is an even numbered year and that some in the Democratic leadership may not want to allow Congress to get its work done in order to score points in the fall and they will look for any excuse. That’s certainly their prerogative. But anyone who cares about the farmer and the rancher and the state of the agriculture economy does not have that kind of luxury.”
Peterson compared the language in the bill to an amendment adopted on the House floor in June 2013 that caused Democrats to revolt against the farm bill and causing it to fail. That amendment also would have tightened work requirements and allowed states to keep some of the savings. Democrats said that gave states an incentive to kick people off of SNAP.
Peterson said he didn’t know how Conaway could go ahead with having the committee debate the bill March 20, if he wants Democratic support. Congress will begin a two-week recess the following week.
Conaway said Thursday that he planned to release the draft bill next week in order to have the committee markup the week after next, setting up House floor action the week after the Easter recess.
He is likely to need some Democratic support on the House floor, however, to overcome losses from GOP conservatives who object to the spending on farm programs or believe that the changes to SNAP don’t go far enough.
A source with an anti-hunger group said the draft bill appeared to be crafted to appeal only to Republicans for election purposes.
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