Food stamps to stay in farm bill, U.S. rep says at Missouri State Fair

SEDALIA, Mo. — The chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee said Monday that attempts by a conservative bloc in Congress to separate food assistance programs out of the new farm bill is a non-starter.

“First of all, it’s not going to happen,” said U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican who was at the Missouri State Fair on Monday. “The division makes no sense whatsoever.”

Thompson, along with four colleagues from the ag panel, spent more than an hour at a pavilion on the fairgrounds fielding requests for the farm bill from Missouri farmers and ag groups as part of a listening tour on the massive program.

Alongside the lingering effects of a two-year drought on farmers and ranchers, issues facing the farm industry have made headlines in Missouri in recent weeks:

Tyson announced it was closing two chicken processing facilities in Missouri, resulting in hundreds of job losses.

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Smithfield Foods announced the closure of 35 hog farms as the U.S. meat industry has grappled with declining profits and higher feed and labor costs.

And the Missouri Department of Natural Resources announced hearings on an Arkansas company’s plan to build a massive lagoon to store waste from the state’s meat processing facilities amid pushback from residents in Randolph County.

While Thompson acknowledged the current farm bill is likely to expire Sept. 30 without a new version being ready for passage, he said efforts to separate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from other ag programs by members of the House Freedom Caucus were unlikely to fly.

Members of the conservative bloc say the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, should be overhauled and should include work requirements for certain recipients.

But farm groups and lawmakers are wary of such a plan after a similar slog occurred in the 2014 and 2018 negotiations, with SNAP benefits playing a role in each delay in a tug-of-war between the interests of urban lawmakers who want public nutrition programs and rural lawmakers who seek farm subsidy assistance.

Last week, more than two dozen House Democratic lawmakers asked Republican leaders of the House to drop demands for cutting SNAP benefits.

U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, a freshman Democrat who sits on the committee, told reporters after the hearing that his urban Chicago district has much in common with rural America when it comes to food security.

“We’re losing grocery stores. I want to help bridge that gap,” Jackson said.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Mark Alford, a Missouri Republican who hosted the event at the fair, said he favors keeping SNAP intact, but implementing some changes aimed at addressing the concerns of the Freedom Caucus.

“We have to eliminate the waste and the fraud in the SNAP program,” said Alford, who represents the 4th Congressional District. 

Tom Oelrichs, a dairy farmer, also told the panel that keeping food stamps in the overall legislation was important for his business.

“I think it’s important for SNAP to be included in the farm bill,” Oelrichs said.

Others who testified called for more spending on broadband internet access in rural parts of the state.

“It’s no longer a luxury. It’s a requirement,” said Thompson. “It’s a high priority for the committee.”

Brian Lehman, a corn farmer from Versailles, said drought conditions show the need for crop insurance programs to continue.

“Crop insurance is something that is vital to us,” Lehman said.

Thompson said he is working with his Senate counterparts to craft an extension to keep programs on track if the current law expires without a new bill in place.

“The clock’s ticking,” Thompson said. “The on-time part is a challenge. October 1 is coming fast.”

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