The No. 2-ranking Senate Republican is urging the Senate’s farm bill negotiators to consider tightening food stamp work requirements in line with provisions in the House-passed version.
In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas described the House bill’s work provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as “very common sense.”
“While I wish the members of the conference committee my best as they try to reach consensus on the farm bill, I would encourage them to take another look at (House Agriculture) Chairman (Mike) Conaway’s ideas on work requirements,” Cornyn said.
Afterward, however, Cornyn indicated that the work provisions would not be a deal breaker him. They weren't when the Senate version was on the floor in June.
“It’s important to have a farm bill, particularly given the uncertainty around trade. I’m confident in the end I would support the conference (report), but I hope they move closer in the House’s direction,” he told reporters.
The Senate passed its farm bill in June, 86-11, after defeating, 68-30, an amendment that would have tightened SNAP work rules and required food stamp recipients to have a photo ID when using their benefits. Cornyn supported the amendment but still voted for the bill.
Cornyn's floor statement keeps him in line with Conaway, a fellow Texan, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said little about the issue and has called on the negotiators to have a compromise farm bill ready in early September.
The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, reiterated to Agri-Pulse that the House bill’s SNAP provisions were a non-starter for Senate Democrats.
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“There would not be the votes in the Senate for what the House bill did on SNAP,” she said.
Under existing law, able-bodied adults without dependents under age 50 are generally expected to work at least 20 hours a week or be in a training program to receive benefits. They can be out of work no more than three months out of every three years, although that requirement has been waived in many states or areas. The House bill would extend the work requirement to adults in their 50s and parents of children older than 6.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants to tighten SNAP work rules but has stopped short of threatening to veto a bill that doesn't include them. USDA is separately advancing a rule that would make administrative changes to requirements for waiving the existing standards.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., tentatively plans to hold the first meeting of the full conference committee the week after Congress returns from the Labor Day weekend.
The House is not in session this month. The Senate was in session Wednesday and Thursday and will return next week.
The negotiators have yet to hold substantive discussions for resolving major disagreements between the House and Senate bills. “The staff has had very serious, thoughtful conversations about what the intent is of various policies, what the language says, but we haven't gotten any farther than that,” Stabenow said.
Outside groups, meanwhile, continue sending letters to the conferees on a variety of issues.
Sixty farm organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, signed a letter endorsing a provision in the Senate farm bill that would require USDA to “fully enforce the existing Buy American requirements” for domestic food assistance programs.
The National Biodiesel Board appealed to the negotiators to fund biofuel assistance programs. The Senate bill funded the programs and maintained a separate energy title. The House bill would provide no mandatory funding.
A collection of forestry and conservation groups wrote to the negotiators seeking support for programs that benefit private forests, including the Conservation Reserve Program and the Regional Conservation Partnerships Program.
The groups’ letter urged the negotiators to reach a deal on CRP between the 29-million-acre limit set by the House bill and the 25-million-acre cap in the Senate version. CRP is currently limited to 24 million acres.
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