"Confirms my worst fears": Republican farm bill would slash SNAP benefits, gut animal welfare laws

"Every SNAP participant would receive less to buy groceries in future years under this proposal," said one critic

Published May 23, 2024 8:23AM (EDT)

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Republicans are trying to pass a $1.5 trillion farm bill that critics across the political spectrum say will squeeze farmers, weaken protections against pesticides and other potential toxins, and cut food stamps, putting poorer Americans at risk of going hungry.

The bill the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024, which will be debated in committee starting Thursday seeks to accomplish its objectives not only by hamstringing the federal government, but by curbing the power of states and rural communities to set their own policies and standards, including on the welfare of animals.

Meanwhile, the country's largest and wealthiest producers stand to benefit from the bill's allocation of massive subsidies and the removal of regulations. Industry groups representing them have praised the bill, pitting them against a long list of advocacy and farmer organizations who argue that must-pass farm legislation should not be skewed in favor of big agribusiness.

"America's farmers and consumers need forward-looking policies that build a sustainable, resilient, and fair food system," said Food & Water Watch policy analyst Rebecca Wolf. "Instead, House leadership seems poised to take us backwards, trading state-level gains for a few more bucks in the pockets of corporate donors. Congress must move beyond partisan bickering, and get to work on a Farm Bill that cuts handouts to Big Ag and factory farms."

House Agriculture Committee chair Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., claimed that the bill "is the product of extensive feedback from stakeholders and all members of the House, and is responsive to the needs of farm country through the incorporation of hundreds of bipartisan policies." But David Scott, D-Ga., the panel's ranking member, said that the draft "confirms my worst fears."

A farm bill is a legislative package that governs an array of agricultural and food issues and typically lasts five years before needing reauthorization by Congress. The 2018 bill would have expired in September 2023, along with many of the programs it funded, if Congress did not pass a one-year extension. Now, lawmakers are racing to pass a new farm bill before the new deadline, with Senate Democrats releasing their their own version earlier this month. But a ticking clock is not enough to bring Democrats around to the House GOP proposal, which they say crosses several red lines by stripping funding from key initiatives.

One of those red lines is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed low-income Americans. The Republican farm bill would slash nearly $30 billion from SNAP benefits over the next decade, limit future adjustments outside of inflation and outsource eligibility decisions to private corporations, even as the federal program already struggles to prevent 41 million people from starving with the money that it has.

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While the bill does make some modest improvements like expanding access to senior nutrition improvements and removing a lifetime ban on Americans with previous felony drug convictions from receiving benefits, critics say that those only add up to about half of what Republicans aim to cut.

"Every SNAP participant would receive less to buy groceries in future years under this proposal, the Congressional Budget Office projects, putting a healthy diet out of reach for millions of individuals and families with low incomes," said Ty Jones Cox, Vice President for Food Assistance at the Center on Budget and Food Priorities.

Democrats are also balking at the bill's proposal to remove climate-friendly rules around the use of $14 billion in conservation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, which they say is necessary to cut pollution and protect rural communities from environmental damage, such as that caused by toxic pesticides. Republicans, on the other hand, say that conservation policy should be left in the hands of state and local governments, even though such efforts (or lack thereof) can be wildly inconsistent. To accomplish their purpose, House Republicans inserted into the farm bill many provisions from earlier legislation that failed in the House amid opposition from over 150 organizations and farmer groups.

The threat to dismantle federal and state-issued standards through inserting provisions from the EATS Act puts existing animal welfare protections at risk, including those meant to shield dogs from puppy mills and prevent mistreatment of farm animals. Animal rights groups accused Republicans of sacrificing those protections to satisfy the demands of powerful interest groups. "Thompson’s efforts to tip the scales for the pork industry’s laggard faction are especially perplexing because he’s been hearing from many farmers, producers and citizens in his own state who want him to defend and protect animal welfare standards," wrote The Humane Society of the United States.

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Meanwhile, the bill received praise from some agribusiness groups, who hope to eat from the trough of billion-dollar subsidies.

"The Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 sends a clear message that Food for Peace should be delivering as much American grown food to as many hungry people as possible," said Peter Laudeman, Director of Trade Policy for U.S. Wheat Associates. "This is a mission American wheat farmers are proud to support, and we look forward to seeing these important reforms carried through the farm bill process."

But its apparent obeisance to a few thousand of America's wealthiest producers in the commodity crop business, while cutting food aid and conservation funding, has also drawn criticism from both left and right. Some conservative lawmakers and policy thinkers, suspicious of government spending in general, have derided the bill as an expensive backdoor gift to people who don't need it.

“There’s a reason you’re seeing so many groups from across the ideological spectrum in opposition — there’s not an economic justification for it,” David Ditch, a senior policy analyst at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, told The Hill.

Other groups have complained that the bill would weaken child labor laws, unfairly reduce competition, or protect unsustainable commercial agriculture at the expense of more resilient, diversified approaches. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who has taken advantage of the House GOP's razor-thin majority to wield political leverage, said that the bill "is dead on arrival in terms of receiving a substantial amount of Democratic support.”

By Nicholas Liu

Nicholas (Nick) Liu is a News Fellow at Salon. He grew up in Hong Kong, earned a B.A. in History at the University of Chicago, and began writing for local publications like the Santa Barbara Independent and Straus News Manhattan.

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