A key Capitol Hill Republican says he plans to focus closely on the nutrition title during deliberations surrounding the upcoming farm bill.
Speaking on this week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Rep. Glenn Thompson, the top Republican on the House Ag Committee, says he was frustrated with updates to the Thrifty Food Plan that were used to increase benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The reevaluation, announced in August 2021, increased average SNAP benefits by about $36 per month.
While Congress authorized the update in the 2018 farm bill, Thompson said Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack did it “entirely on his own authority, and not in a real transparent way.
“I mean, he added an additional quarter trillion dollars to the nutrition title,” Thompson said on this week’s Newsmakers. The nutrition title is now projected to cost $1.1 trillion over 10 years, he said.
Thompson, who chaired the House Ag's nutrition subcommittee during work on the farm bill, said USDA did not consult closely with Congress Hill as it considered the calculations.
In August, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was in touch with Thompson and Senate Ag Ranking Member John Boozman, R-Ark., in advance of the TFP rollout. Vilsack said the farm bill had no constraints on the choices that were made.
The politics of the nutrition title have been evident in recent farm bills, noted Jonathan Coppess, a former Farm Service Agency administrator and Capitol Hill staffer who is currently on the faculty of the University of Illinois. He said nutrition issues have hampered final passage of previous farm bills as GOP members of Congress sought to win SNAP reforms that angered Democrats.
“We have the last two farm bills in the House to show just how problematic that gets. Both of them [the bills] were defeated on the House floor once and had to be sort of rescued back in the process,” he said.
“So I think any time we see this very partisan focus on cutting SNAP, changing benefits, removing people from the program, all of that just ignites a series of partisan and political problems in the chambers that complicate the coalition building you need to get the votes to get the bill across the floor,” he said.
Thompson also said he was concerned about increased input costs facing producers and suggested shifting to a more margin-based risk management structure.
“Is reference price actually a good way to continue when it's the margin that matters?” Thompson asked.
Thompson said commodity market prices are fluctuating, but “every commodity is struggling with input costs” which don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, he added.
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“Shouldn't we be looking [to] more total margin type instrument versus a reference price, which is really meaningless if you have this super high inflation because unfortunately, I don't see signs of that slowing,” said Thompson.
To address this issue in the next farm bill, Thompson is calling on producers to continue to share their experiences on how their operation is being impacted by rising input costs. Then he questioned if reference prices are the best tool to help producers.
Lisa Van Doren, chief of staff of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said producers, especially rice growers, are being hit hard with input costs and are looking to the farm bill for support.
“That's really going to be an initiative that we're going to focus on and to try to make sure that Congress understands the implications,” said Van Doren.
Ryan Yates of the American Farm Bureau Federation said ag lobbyists will have to educate a number of new lawmakers on farm bill issues after the midterm elections in November.
“I think as it stands now, we have over 150 members in the House that weren't here when we wrote the last farm bill,” he said. “With retirements and election around the corner, we have a lot of education to do; I do think it can be done.”
This week’s Newsmakers can be viewed at Agri-Pulse.com.