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More than 100 amendments filed to House farm bill

By JERRY HAGSTROM

At least 101 amendments have been filed on the House farm bill before the markup that starts today, but amendments that are not germane to the core bill will not be considered, a House Agriculture Committee aide said early today as the markup was about to begin in the Longworth House Office Building committee room.

The bill is posted on the House Agriculture Committee website. The amendments have not and will not be posted, but various groups have issued last-minute statements urging votes one way or the other.

The Food Research and Action Center said it is supporting an amendment to be sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to restore the categorical eligibility, low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP) and state bonus provisions.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said it is opposed to the nutrition title of the bill because its provision limiting categorical eligibility for food stamps to only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash recipients “would increase state administrative costs in SNAP and significantly curtail state flexibility.”

In a letter to the House Agriculture Committee leaders, the group said it is also opposed to the proposed elimination of the high performance state bonus program, NCSL said.

“The high performance state bonus program provides an incentive for states to administer SNAP in an efficient, accurate manor by competing against one another for a monetary bonus,” the group said. “The bonus has been successful in improving program performance, payment accuracy and services. Currently, the error rate in SNAP is at historic lows.”

David Just
David Just
Meanwhile, a Cornell University professor said that if the committee has to cut food stamps, categorical eligibility is the right element to cut, but that cutting it would still hit food stamp households hard.

“If I had to cut $16 billion over 10 years from SNAP, this is the right set to target,” said David R. Just, an associate professor of economics in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“These are individuals who do not qualify for SNAP based on their income and assets, but who are allowed an exception given that they qualify for some other local or national assistance program,” Just said.

“That said, any time you make broad changes in government programs, some people with real needs will be affected,” he said. “This will mean a household of four making about $30,000 per year — that only qualifies for food stamps through the categorical eligibility — could have $150 less to spend per month. It could be tough for such households that are right on the edge of eligibility, but this just argues that the maximum income allowed is too low.

“I would expect the reduction in income to hit nutrition hard,” Just said. “Households will cut back to account for the loss of income, but that cut will be more focused on food budgets than other items. This will lead families to cheaper, higher calorie meals.”

The National Family Farm Coalition urged committee members to oppose an amendment to be offered by Reps. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Jim Costa, D-Calif., to repeal livestock and poultry provisions in the last farm bill and the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration regulations that were finalized as a compromise after last year's GIPSA regulation fight.

“The compromise GIPSA rules finalized last year largely address notoriously unfair practices faced by the nation’s poultry growers,” the family farm group said, noting that the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation had supported them and that even the National Chicken Council had praised the compromise.

“We urge you to recognize that the poultry farmers of the country deserve to expect some standards of fairness and basic access to information in their business dealings with poultry companies,” the group said.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has sent committee members a letter urging votes on a number of amendments.

Seventy-three groups also asked the committee to reverse cuts to rural development programs.