The American Soybean Association issued a statement early Friday criticizing the House Budget Committee plans to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and block-grant the program, formerly known as food stamps, back to states to define and do as they wish.
ASA stated the group opposes the proposal based on its longstanding opposition to reopening of the farm bill and policy opposing the separation of the nutrition and agriculture components of the bill.
Farm groups have largely laid low over the last few years as House Republicans have repeatedly spelled out in their budget a desire to turn SNAP into a block-grant program. The lack of response from farm groups raised questions over whether the old ag-nutrition coalition could ever return to effectively mount an effective defense for a new farm bill.
The House budget that moved out of committee would "convert SNAP into a State Flexibility Fund tailored for each state’s low-income population. States would have to satisfy key conditions, such as meeting work targets as well as certain program integrity conditions," according to the plan blueprint. The budget committee noted that SNAP spending has gone from $15.4 billion in 1990 to $74.2 billion in 2014.
According to the budget text, discretionary spending for Agriculture would decline from $23.8 billion in fiscal-year 2017 to $19.6 billion in FY 2022 before seeing an uptick again in discretionary funds.
USDA's discretionary budget for Fiscal Year 2016 is $25 billion. Over 10 years, the House budget plan would cut more than $44 billion, or roughly an average of $4.4 billion each year, out of discretionary spending for agricultural and food programs compared to the current budget.
The budget bill doesn't specifically define how much SNAP would face in cuts or how much would be allocated to divide amongst states. The Budget Committee does expect the House Agriculture Committee to find $1 billion a year in savings from 2017-2026, essentially a $10 billion cut in mandatory programs.
This perhaps sets up for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, to roll out a plan to cut SNAP. Since taking the chairmanship, Conaway has held more hearings on SNAP that any other single topic.
In the American Soybean Association statement, Richard Wilkins, a Delaware farmer and ASA president, said the group's stance is being taken to help unify agriculture and nutrition groups to prepare for the 2018 farm bill debate. Throughout the 2013-14 farm bill battle, ag and nutrition groups saw their coalition divided following efforts in the House to split agriculture and nutrition into separate pieces of legislation.
"When we talk about maintaining the integrity of programs authorized in the farm bill, we mean all of the programs in the farm bill, including SNAP. As a policy organization, we encourage the regular evaluation of programs to determine how they can be most effective," Wilkins said. "But as producers of the nation's food, we can't support a proposal that would weaken the ability of Americans in the most need to buy that food. As we approach discussions on the next Farm Bill, we need to stand together as a food community. This partnership is critically important for those of us in production agriculture, since only 60 or 70 members of the House identify themselves as representing rural districts. We must ensure that nutrition and farm programs stay united and the decades-old link between the people who grow the nation's food and the people in need of help to put it on their family tables is preserved."
It should be noted that there are questions about the prospects for the House budget bill because roughly 40 conservatives who are part of the Freedom Caucus are balking at the overall costs for FY 2017 -- $1.07 trillion -- and do not believe the budget committee did enough to cut spending. That raises doubts regarding how the House can pass a budget on the floor because it's unlikely very many Democrats will support it.
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