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Farm Bill

Congress finally provided the measure of certainty that Americans need for food production and nutrition.

The belated five-year Farm Bill of 2018 will sustain nutrition programs that prevent hunger in America. The 800 pages of legislation includes renewal and some improvements to the agriculture safety net that blunts impacts of low commodity prices and natural disasters.

The major obstacle to agreement on this Farm Bill was the insistence of some House Republicans that adults receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits should have to comply with more stringent rules about working and proving they had met work requirements. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, voted for the House bill and defended the proposed new work rules in an August interview with The Gazette editorial board.

We are relieved that those unnecessary new rules didn’t stay in the final Farm Bill. That means the 60,000 Montana households that rely on SNAP to buy some of their groceries every month will keep the help they need and qualify for based on family income.

We are relieved also that the state of Montana won’t be forced to shoulder the additional administrative costs that the House bill would have foisted on states. Montana already requires adult SNAP recipients to work, but the House bill would have required much more frequent verification and documentation of compliance.

Montana advocates for low-income folks, particularly food banks and faith leaders, have been writing letters to the editor and penning op-eds for months – pleading for the Montana delegation to keep SNAP intact.

Shortly after the House-Senate conference committee released the final Farm Bill, Montana Food Bank Network CEO Gayle Carlson issued a statement saying: “The agreement ensures that SNAP will continue to help feed children and their parents, seniors, people with disabilities, working people with low pay and inconsistent hours, and anyone else who falls on hard times. SNAP is and will remain a lifeline for people in our state.”

The Farm Bill also continues funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides food to many of Montana’s pantries and meal programs while supporting our nation’s producers.

The bill heading for President Trump’s desk is very similar to the Senate version, which didn’t include the House SNAP cut that was projected to take benefits away from 2 million people. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines voted for the Senate bill.

Nearly three months after the last Farm Bill expired, the new one passed the Senate and House this week with overwhelming support, including the votes of Gianforte, Daines and Tester.

Neither Daines nor Gianforte mentioned the bill’s nutrition title in their announcements of support for the final legislation.

Only Tester, the farmer, cited nutrition programs as an accomplishment: “It provides the kind of certainty producers can take to the bank, while protecting successful conservation tools and ensuring every hungry Montanan has access to quality food.”

Daines, the only member of the delegation who sits on an agriculture committee, worked to change the way crop losses are calculated so producers in large geographic counties (as in Montana) are treated fairly in decisions to declare disasters and calculate aid. Disaster status is determined by the percentage of cropland damaged countywide. The rule was rewritten to divide large counties when determining qualification for Agricultural Loss Coverage payments.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue commended Congress for “bringing the Farm Bill across the finish line” and encouraged Trump to sign it.

So, in the week before Christmas, with the White House and Congress still unable to agree on budgets for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and the president’s threat of a partial government shutdown looming, there is one Capital Hill action to cheer: Americans will have certainty on federal farm and nutrition policy through September 2023 – once the president signs the Farm Bill.

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