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The Better Farm Bill for Washington

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee released its Farm Bill. The bill is carefully crafted and bipartisan, standing in stark contrast to the House bill that will likely be pulled back to the floor this week for a second chance vote.

The Senate bill protects current SNAP benefits while protecting key farmland conservation programs and increasing support for programs that help small and mid-scale growers expand and diversify their marketing opportunities.

Where the House bill penalizes SNAP participants who are under-employed or can’t find jobs in their communities, the Senate bill invests in employment and training programs that help move people off SNAP and into good-paying jobs: it nearly doubles funding to extend current pilot projects (including Washington’s RISE program) and add new states. The Senate bill also reauthorizes the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant which helps SNAP recipients purchase more fruits and vegetables. It also reduces administrative barriers to make it easier for low-income seniors and people with disabilities to apply for SNAP, reduces barriers for seniors to participate in the Commodity Supplemental Foods Program (CSFP), and makes a modest increase for food banks. The Senate bill manages to do all of this without touching household benefits for currently eligible SNAP recipients.

The Senate bill eliminates performance bonuses to states that have high or most improved payment accuracy rates, but that money would be reinvested into operations costs for administering SNAP. The bill also echoes a provision in the House bill that would establish a national database to prevent a SNAP recipient from receiving SNAP benefits from more than one state; however, the Senate version includes added protections for recipients and for their privacy that are absent from the House language.

The Senate bill shows a pathway forward for a Farm Bill that protects the needs of struggling families and struggling farms, but we’re not out of the woods yet: a floor vote is expected before the July 4 recess and we will need to be vigilant to prevent the passage of harmful amendments. Over in the House, leadership is reporting that they will pull an immigration package to the floor and will be able to have a reconsideration vote on the House Farm Bill by next Friday’s deadline. If the House passes H.R. 2, then this will no doubt complicate and extend the negotiations process needed to bridge the chasm between the House and Senate bills.