Farm Bill 101
SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation that is renewed (aka “reauthorized”) every five years. The rest of the Farm Bill includes food and agriculture programs such as crop insurance and subsidies and rural development.
Historically, Farm Bills have been reauthorized with bipartisan support, in large part thanks to the longtime urban-rural coalition of lawmakers and advocates that coalesces in support of both SNAP and agriculture programs. However, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas has been making statements that suggest he may pursue a partisan Farm Bill this year because he appears to be considering deep cuts in SNAP benefits in the House Agriculture Committee’s version.
The Farm Bill needs to be reauthorized by September 30, 2018. In the last few Farm Bill cycles, the House and Senate have passed their own versions of the Farm Bill (which are written by the respective Agriculture Committees). Then the House and Senate must come together to reconcile their differences and pass one identical version. We expect the same process to play out this year, with the House Agriculture Committee moving first with their version.
- Between now and early April: The House Agriculture Committee continues to draft its version of the House Farm Bill. Recently, negotiations have been stalled due to concerns about reports that the House Farm Bill will contain harmful cuts and changes to SNAP.
- Mid-April: The House Agriculture Committee introduces its version of the Farm Bill reauthorization and holds a markup to review and consider amendments to the bill. At the end of the markup, the House Agriculture Committee will vote to report the bill out of committee. The full House could vote on the Farm Bill soon after the markup or in the summer.
- Sometime in April: Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts of Kansas has said he wants to introduce and mark up the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill in April.
Late spring or early summer: After the Senate Agriculture Committee markup, the Farm Bill would move to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote. Then the House and Senate would presumably need to reconcile the differences between their versions of the legislation.
What’s At Stake
For months, we’ve been hearing Speaker Ryan and other congressional leaders talk about proposals to cut and make harmful changes to federal programs that help families of limited means afford food, housing, health care, and other basic needs—first under the banner of “welfare reform” and now with the misleading language of “workforce development.” The Trump Administration has already started advancing this agenda by allowing states to take away health coverage from Medicaid participants and create barriers that will make it harder for people to work and succeed in today’s economy.
The first major legislative threat to low-income assistance programs could come in the next few weeks when the House Agriculture Committee introduces its version of the 2018 Farm Bill. That’s because the Farm Bill includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP and formerly known as food stamps), our nation’s largest and most effective anti-hunger program.
If the House Farm Bill—like the President’s budget proposal released in February—contains cuts to SNAP benefits and eligibility, many types of SNAP participants could be hurt, including low-income working families with children and those struggling to find work.
The most important thing to know is that SNAP works:
- SNAP fights poverty. By helping people cover a basic need like putting food on the table, SNAP keeps more than eight million people out of poverty—including nearly four million children.
- SNAP is a strong public-private partnership. SNAP benefits are spent at more than 250,000 grocers and local food retailers around the country.
- SNAP is good for public health. SNAP is linked with reduced health care costs because it reduces food insecurity. And SNAP’s impact on children can last a lifetime. For example, research shows that adults who received food stamps as young children are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to suffer long-term health problems like obesity and heart disease.
- SNAP is efficient. SNAP already does a lot with too little. Even though the food assistance SNAP provides is extremely modest—averaging only about $1.40 per person per meal—it’s a lifesaver for many Americans. In addition, out of all public benefit programs, SNAP has one of the most rigorous systems to determine eligibility upfront. As a result, SNAP also has a low error rate, meaning that the vast majority of SNAP benefits are issued correctly to eligible households.
How to Talk about SNAP and the Farm Bill
Assuming the House Farm Bill contains harmful cuts and changes to SNAP, below is some messaging guidance based on existing message research and experience. We include policy background where relevant but otherwise try to stay at a high level, focused on messaging.
Topline Message: Cuts and harmful changes to SNAP that take away people’s food
have no place in the Farm Bill. We urge Congress to focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages, rather than punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.
- Establish a common goal and draw on shared values.
We all win when our communities are healthy and prosperous. That’s why we have a shared responsibility to keep our neighbors and community members from going hungry.
We can all agree that helping people who can work get good-paying jobs and succeed is a good goal, but more rigid and restrictive SNAP work requirements won’t help us get there.
- Assert that SNAP is a successful program with far-reaching, positive impacts. SNAP is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, helping 1 in 8 Americans put food on the table.
Who SNAP helps
All over the country, far too many Americans are struggling to make ends meet.
- Some have lost their jobs, some have faced a health crisis or other costly emergency, and some are managing a long-term disability.
- Many work long days at low wages that simply aren’t always enough to get by. SNAP helps families stretch their budgets further by making it possible for workers earning low pay to put food on the table.
How SNAP makes a difference
SNAP, also known as food stamps, helps struggling families and workers afford a basic diet.
- Millions of Americans turn to SNAP when they hit tough times or are struggling to get by on low wages.
- No matter who they are—a senior living on a fixed income, a working mom earning $10 an hour, or a homeless vet—millions of Americans use SNAP to help them afford groceries.
- SNAP is especially critical to our loved ones and neighbors who are most in need. Nearly two-thirds of those who use the program are children, the elderly, or people with disabilities.
Why SNAP is a success story
SNAP works. It has long been one of our nation’s most powerful and effective poverty-reduction programs. When you’re able to cover a basic need like putting food on the table, you can get back on your feet more quickly. That’s how SNAP keeps more than eight million people out of poverty—including nearly four million children.
SNAP is good for public health.
- SNAP is linked with reduced health care costs. On average, low-income adults participating in SNAP incur about $1,400, or nearly 25 percent, less in medical care costs in a year than low-income adults who don’t participate in SNAP. The difference is even greater for those with hypertension (nearly $2,700 less) and coronary heart disease (over $4,100 less).
- SNAP’s impact on children can last a lifetime. For example, research shows that adults who received food stamps as young children are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to suffer long-term health problems like obesity and heart disease. Individuals who participate in SNAP also have lower overall health care costs.
Assuming that the House Farm Bill contains deep cuts to SNAP (which is still uncertain): Push back on the overall approach to SNAP in the House Farm Bill
- The House Farm Bill endangers the long-term bipartisan commitment to preventing hunger. The proposed cuts and changes to SNAP will take away food from children, working people, people struggling to find jobs, and others struggling to make ends meet.
- SNAP helps struggling families and workers put healthy food on their tables. SNAP, not private charity, is the front-line against hunger. According to a Feeding America analysis, SNAP provides 12 meals for every 1 meal that Feeding America’s network of food bank provides. There’s no way that private charities could make up for these cuts in SNAP, which means more people in our community would go hungry.
- SNAP is an incredibly effective anti-hunger program. We urge Congress not to cut or include harmful changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill. Don’t try to “fix” what isn’t broken.
- Taking food assistance from people struggling to find a job, working families, and seniors is the wrong approach for this Farm Bill. Such an approach is likely to be partisan and controversial.
- Instead of talking about policy changes focused on punishing people struggling to find jobs and making people hungrier, we ought to be talking about building upon SNAP’s strengths. SNAP is a sound investment with respect to health outcomes as well as long-term education and employment outcomes. Strengthening, not cutting, SNAP is the right pathway forward.