Nutrition program hurdles highlighted in hearing

Tensions are high as House Agriculture Committee members work on the nutrition title of the next farm bill.

During a hearing with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday, Ranking Member David Scott said he’s very concerned about the direction of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, opposing an “extreme” bill sponsored by Dusty Johnson from South Dakota.

“His bill would kick 1.5 million seniors and families with school-aged children off of SNAP.”

Johnson told the committee the bill is not meant to deny help to the people who need it, but to set stricter work requirements and close existing loopholes in the program.

“No one who is pregnant would be denied benefits. No one with young dependants at home, disabled or any that live in an area with high unemployment,” said Johnson. “And yes, I realize there are some hard to serve populations that fall out of those buckets and that’s why existing law provides flexibility to states.”

The increase in SNAP funding for the next farm bill was also discussed.

The nutrition title is projected to cost 85% of the farm bill baseline, a near 10% increase from the previous legislation. Georgia Republican Austin Scott asked Secretary Vilsack about increased spending for production agriculture.

“Do you think that less than 12% of farm bill spending should go to production agriculture,” questioned Scott.

“That’s a difficult question to answer,” responded Vilsack, “because you’re limiting the conversation to the farm bill when there are other things that are being done by the department. The Emergency Relief Program, for example. There’s a whole set of resources being provided you aren’t including in the equation.”

Lawmakers also questioned Vilsack about SNAP participation. The current farm bill expires September 30.

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