Signs point to more farm bill headwinds

Funding breakdown for farm, nutrition programs could continue to cause political problems.

By Jonathan Coppess, Gary Schnitkey, Nick Paulson and Carl Zulauf, farmdoc daily

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The partisan nature of the House Agriculture Committee’s initial steps in reauthorizing the 2018 farm bill – no Republican members voted against it while no Democrats voted for it – could signal further difficulties for passing a bill in Congress this year.

The political situation around the 2018 farm bill continues to deteriorate. The House Ag Committee’s vote marks the first time since food assistance was added to the farm bill that one was reported by the House Ag Committee on a strictly party-line vote.

The closest historical antecedent was the Food and Agriculture Act of 1962, which all 14 committee Republicans and a handful of Democrats opposed. That bill was defeated on the House floor.

Significant focus has concentrated on three key changes in the bill: revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program and alterations to farm programs, including payment limitations and eligibility requirements.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the House farm bill will increase spending by $458 million compared to the Baseline. Estimates for the four major titles include:

- Title I farm program spending is expected to increase by $194 million

- Title X crop insurance spending is expected to decrease by $160 million

- Title II spending on conservation programs is expected to decrease by $796 million

- Title IV nutrition spending will increase by $458 million

Looking closer, CBO estimates total spending will increase by $3.2 billion during the five years the bill would be in operation (FY 2019-2023). Of that increase, $1.8 billion is for nutrition and SNAP, $149 million for commodities and $656 million for conservation. CBO estimates a $70 million decrease for crop insurance.

Therefore, most of the scored savings in the bill are expected in the out-years of the 10-year estimate (FY 2024-2028), or after the 2018 farm bill would be expected to expire and be replaced by a new bill.

The House Ag Committee added controversial work requirements and benefit reductions for food assistance recipients, while increasing the cost of administering the program.

At the same time, the committee elected to provide farmers with new methods to increase farm program payments and avoid Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) eligibility requirements.

Those issues will likely cause problems for the bill and its supporters going forward.

It could prove consequential for this and future farm bills if it serves to further damage the larger coalition between farm assistance and food assistance that has historically been necessary to pass a farm bill through Congress.

Learn more: Click here for a closer look at spending estimates for the House’s 2018 farm bill.

This article is part of the University of Illinois Gardner Agriculture Policy Program, which focuses on policies pertinent to the upcoming farm bill, conservation, trade and other ag-related issues. The program is funded through the Leonard and Lila Gardner/Illinois Farm Bureau Family of Companies endowment.

About the authors: Jonathan Coppess, Gary Schnitkey and Nick Paulson are faculty members at the University of Illinois’ Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. Carl Zulauf is with the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at Ohio State University.

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