Trump to Engage on Farm Bill

President Could Threaten to Veto Bill if SNAP Work Requirements Aren't Toughened

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
Connect with Chris:
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is pictured in his office Wednesday talking about the farm bill. Peterson has not engaged with Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, in recent weeks over the bill because of Democratic resistance to the chairman's plan to overhaul parts of food aid program SNAP. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- President Donald Trump will get involved with the farm bill on Thursday, and according to the Wall Street Journal, he will demand tighter work or training requirements for some food-aid recipients.

Trump will meet with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, as well as Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Politico also reported that Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow will join the talks.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump is expected to say he would only support the farm bill if it maintains language similar to the House GOP bill that tightens work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That basically translates into a potential veto threat from the president.

The White House meeting comes as Conaway is seeking to whip up enough votes within the Republican caucus to pass the farm bill on the House floor next week. Yet groups from both the conservative and liberal sides of the spectrum oppose the bill for various reasons. A handful of groups from both the right and left came together at a press event Tuesday specifically to criticize the lack of reforms or budget savings in commodity programs and crop insurance.

SNAP already has work or job-training requirements for people ages 18-49, but they are often waived by states. The House bill would require people defined as able-bodied adults without dependents ages 18-59 to work at least 20 hours a week or go to job-training programs for that time. The bill would also invest more money in state job-training programs for the SNAP population.

Democrats in the House are nearly universally opposed to the SNAP changes, arguing they amount to an attack on the poor and that the job-training requirements are so onerous they would force people off SNAP aid. The costs required to create effective job-training programs is also suspect.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, told DTN on Thursday he's out of the loop and hasn't talked to Chairman Conaway in the past month. Peterson doesn't see where Conaway will find the votes to pass a bill unless Conaway meets some demands of conservative groups such as the Freedom Caucus who are calling for more cuts and demands on farm programs, as well as SNAP.

"From the start of this thing, I just don't know the strategy here," Peterson said. "This is what brought down the farm bill the last time. So that's why I have decided just to stay hands off. I don't see any way to fix this thing."

The House Democratic strategy is to not offer any amendments to the bill, but to focus debate specifically on the SNAP changes as detailed in the Agriculture Committee. Yet there is a small group of Democrats who often seek to make changes to farm programs, as well, and they may not want to just let the floor debate go forward without at least offering their demands.

SNAP already has work requirements, but it also has several waivers for areas of high unemployment. Eight states and territories have statewide waivers in place for able-bodied adults without dependents. Another 28 states have partial waivers.

"What really bothers me is they are not going to get at the people who aren't working with what they are doing," Peterson said. "The people who generally aren't working are exempted under the waivers, and they aren't doing anything about the waivers because they don't politically think they can take on the reservations and the inner-cities where these waivers are."

Peterson notes that, in some of these areas of the country, there are no jobs or few jobs most SNAP recipients would qualify for. "So a good portion of these people who are working-age adults with no kids are exempted because they are working in these kinds of places," Peterson said.

Peterson said SNAP came up earlier this year when he attended a meeting with President Trump at the White House. Peterson piped up in the meeting and noted there were work requirements, but there were also several waivers. Peterson said the president wanted to fix the situation.

"But I don't see how you get rid of the waivers in east L.A. (Los Angeles) or Pine Ridge (Reservation)," Peterson said. "But it's not like we are giving these people cash, and we're not giving them a lot of money."

Trump's involvement -- and SNAP demands -- creates a new dynamic for the Senate, which has yet to release a version of its bill. Roberts has said several times in the past month that he has no intention of including any kind of similar job-training requirement in the Senate bill. Roberts needs 60 votes to pass a farm bill, which means he needs Democratic support.

"I don't know how you get it through the Senate if you do the SNAP thing," Peterson said.

Peterson maintains that most farmers are not paying much attention to the farm bill, nor are they urgently calling for its passage. That's because the farm bill does little to change commodity programs.

"Farmers are not engaged," Peterson said. "The farm bill doesn't even come up with farmers. They have talked to me about the RFS, they have talked to me about trade stuff, about waters of the U.S., and then maybe the fourth or fifth thing is the farm bill. I think it's because there's no change."

One of the big benefits of a new bill, however, is the ability to switch commodity programs, especially since the Agricultural Risk Coverage payouts have waned in the past two years. Without major changes to ARC, a lot of farmers are expected to shift enrollment to the Price Loss Coverage program.

"You have got a bunch of people wanting to do that," Peterson said.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG/ES)

Chris Clayton