The “Yes, And” Farm Bill

Drama club students will recognize the improv phrase  “Yes, and…,” a phrase that connotes invitation and collaboration - the  acceptance of a basic foundational premise on which to build. “Yes, and…” is a good approach for conservatives trying to make heads or tails of the massive 2018 Farm Bill on its quinnenial trip through Congress.

“Yes” to much-needed work-requirement reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which has become the focal point for House Farm Bill negotiations.

Colloquially referred to as food stamps, SNAP spending makes up the bulk of the farm bill’s price tag. Previous work-requirement initiatives aimed at reforming other federal assistance programs, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, were extremely successful at expediting the return of assistance recipients to the workforce and removing incentives that discourage seeking full-time employment. These reforms have been associated with higher incomes, declining child poverty, and an increased number of single women in the workforce. NTU has long supported work-requirement reforms for able-bodied individuals. 

And” those same principles need to be extended across the other portions of the Farm Bill. A significant goal of work requirements is to help ensure that limited resources are directed toward those who need them most. The same principle should apply to commodity and crop insurance programs. In January, experts at the American Enterprise Institute found that: 2014 and 2015, approximately 60 percent of total crop insurance subsidies and ARC [Agriculture Risk Coverage] and PLC [Price Loss Coverage] government subsidies were paid to producers in the highest 10 percent of crop sales distribution. Further, farm businesses in the top 5 percent of crop sales received nearly 40 percent of all program payments, but more than 50 percent of farms in the lower 70 percent of the crop sales distribution received no subsidy or program payments.

In other words, the more successful the farm business, the bigger the payment from taxpayers. The  means testing in place is almost laughable. The income limit for subsidies from ARC and PLC are pegged at $900,000 a year in adjusted gross income, or $1.8 million per couple. The per-person payment limit is a “mere” $125,000 - more than twice the median household income. Even these limitations would go away under the House farm bill. Our friends at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) explain that new loopholes “would make it even easier for millionaire farmers to receive subsidies.”

Likewise, work requirements should be applied to farm businesses that receive taxpayer subsidies. Unfortunately, the House bill would make it easier for people who don’t actively engage in farming to collect payments.

Yes, work requirements for SNAP are a commonsense reform, and taxpayers need more from the Farm Bill.

The opportunity to weigh in on these far-reaching policies comes only every five years and any debate is already limited by the unholy alliance between nutrition and agriculture programs that comprise the underlying bill. These are big issues that deserve a thorough debate. Looking ahead to the House floor, it is essential that legislators have every opportunity to consider additional cost-saving reforms across the bill.

The fight for welfare reform shouldn’t leave farm welfare behind.