House Republicans are relying on elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program and tightened eligibility rules and work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to fund other priorities in the new farm bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, had no new funding sources outside of the bill to work with in writing the bill. More than 75 percent of the bill’s spending goes toward SNAP and other nutrition programs.
Eliminating CSP would save $12.6 billion over 10 years, of which $7.7 billion would go toward expanding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, according to the analysis released late Friday by the CBO.
"We just think that EQIP is more efficient and a better use of the money," Conaway said Friday.
Another $2.2 billion was put into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and $1.3 billion was added to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Some $795 million was removed from the conservation title and moved to other areas of the bill.
The bill's commodity title, as expected, was left largely unchanged from what was in the 2014 farm bill and augmented by the February budget agreement, which added cotton to the Price Loss Coverage program and enhanced the Margin Protection Program for dairy farmers.
CBO estimates that the bill would increase the cost of PLC by a relatively modest $408 million over 10 years. The bill would allow producers to update their program yields if they experienced severe drought from 2009 to 2013, the period currently used for calculating yields. The bill also includes an escalator provision to raise PLC reference prices should market prices rise significantly.
CBO projected that the PLC program will cost about $44 billion over the next decade without the bill's changes.
The yield update is expected to benefit growers in the southern Plains, and CBO estimates that cotton producers will see an extra $577 million over 10 years under the bill. Soybean growers are projected to see $107 million more. A number of other commodities will receive less, including wheat and sorghum.
But the biggest shifts in farm bill spending are in the nutrition title, and they are a result of the effort to push able-bodied SNAP recipients into work and to tighten eligibility rules.
Under the bill, able-bodied adults under 60, including parents whose children are over 6 years old, would be required to work or be in approved training programs at least 20 hours a weeks. That change, which is expected to reduce SNAP enrollment by 1.1 million people, would save $9.2 billion over the decade, according to CBO.
Of that, $7.7 billion would be provided to states to ramp up employment and training programs. States would be required to guarantee slots to any work-capable SNAP recipient who wants one, underlying the GOP's Welfare to Work agenda.
The bill would reduce benefit costs by another $5.3 billion over 10 years by eliminating a standard utility allowance, which can reduce an applicant’s income in benefit calculations.
An additional $5 billion would be saved by eliminating rules known as “broad-based categorical eligibility” that allow low-income people in some states to qualify for SNAP with earnings well above the federal poverty level, which is $25,000 for a family of four this year. The federal SNAP income limit is 30 percent above the poverty level.
A portion of the savings from those cuts, about $4.6 billion, would pay for increasing an earned income deduction, which Republicans say would give SNAP recipients a greater incentive to work.
Another $3.4 billion would be spent on enforcing a new child-support requirements. Individuals who have been ducking their child support payments would no longer be eligible for SNAP.
Another $1.7 billion of the savings in benefit costs would go toward incentives aimed at encouraging SNAP recipients to eat more healthful foods, which has long been a priority for many Democrats.
The measure would mandate $120 million a year in new funding for USDA to set up retailer-funded pilot projects that increase the purchasing power of SNAP benefits for fruits, vegetables and dairy products. USDA could match 25 percent of the retailer-provided incentives.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), which provide grants to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables by low-income people, would be funded at $65 million a year by 2023. The program was funded at $25 million for fiscal 2018 under the 2014 farm bill.
Other savings would would toward increasing benefits for homeless people and members of the military.
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