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Farm bill debate highlights split among Texans in Congress over SNAP, other policies

  The University of North Texas at Dallas partnered with the North Texas Food Bank by providing a mobile food drive on Friday, March 17th, 2023. The drive-thru service was free and available for anyone in need of support.
Emily Nava
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KERA
The University of North Texas at Dallas partnered with the North Texas Food Bank by providing a mobile food drive on Friday, March 17th, 2023. The drive-thru service was free and available for anyone in need of support.

Texans on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee members remain divided on party lines over how a comprehensive farm bill will affect federal meal benefits after roughly eight hours of discussion and amendments Thursday.

Opponents say it would significantly cut down on federal meal benefits. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the proposed farm bill will cut $2.29 billion in SNAP funding in Texas alone. The Tarrant Area Food Bank said those living in the food bank’s 13-county coverage area would lose millions in SNAP benefits and tens of millions of meals. 

“When I say that I'm fighting for a bill that includes making sure that people in this country don't don't go hungry, I'm not saying that just to say that this is about Texas (District) 30,” said U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas. “I'm saying that to say that this is about all of us. So, I am not just fighting for my constituents. I'm fighting for yours, too.”

Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, rolled out the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 earlier this month. It would allow changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan solely based on inflation adjustments. TFP estimates the lowest possible cost of a healthy diet for a family of four and sets the basis for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP funding.

Thompson and supporters of the bill in the committee said the plan was a balanced approach that would reverse the Biden administration’s changes to the program in 2021 — what Thompson called an unlawful diversion from the previous cost-neutral approach to adjusting the TFP.

House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, says the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 includes a balanced approach to adjusting food stamp benefits that would aim to correct the Biden administration’s overfunding of the program.
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House Committee on Agriculture YouTube page
House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, says the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 includes a balanced approach to adjusting food stamp benefits that would aim to correct the Biden administration’s overfunding of the program.

“If the benefit must be increased beyond inflation, Congress must consider and execute. That's our job,” Thompson said. “The annual cost of living adjustments remain, so SNAP benefits will continue to rise and respond to inflation. Unfortunately, I've learned my Democratic colleagues were led to believe otherwise.”

New farm bills are passed roughly every five years. Agriculture committee members must agree on a version of the bill to send to the full House for consideration.

Republicans Ronny Jackson of Amarillo and Monica De La Cruz of Edinburg did not share their thoughts on how the farm bill would affect SNAP benefits in their initial comments. They did support the bill and highlighted their individual contributions to the bill draft, including Jackson’s bill aimed at providing additional federal payments for farmers and ranchers who lost cattle in the Panhandle wildfires this year.

Rep. Greg Casar, D-Austin, briefly addressed SNAP in his comments and in a press release Wednesday. He mostly pointed out what he said was the bill’s failure to protect agriculture workers.

“It even throws a punch at the public servants that administer SNAP benefits by pushing for more privatization of their public jobs and shipping those jobs out to more corporations,” Casar said. “I mean, come on, y'all. I came to this committee to vote for a pro-farmer, pro-rancher, and pro-worker farm bill, not for a corporate handout.”

Republican members of Congress like Rep. Marcus Molinaro made up most of the support for the bill during Thursday’s markup. The New York congressman grew up using food stamps and said increasing SNAP through cost-of-living adjustments protects the food insecure.

That was something several Democratic colleagues of his supported in the bill’s creation, he said.

“We didn't compromise on cutting SNAP benefits,” Molinaro said. “It is dishonest to say so.”

Democrats did signal support for some of the bill. Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut said she believed it could help farmers in her district with some improvements. But she called the bill’s changes to the SNAP program an attack on the country’s most vulnerable.

“Farmers in Connecticut and across the country deserve the certainty of a farm bill that provides, but does not mean pitting them against the 42 million food insecure Americans who rely on SNAP,” she said. “We need a farm bill that helps everyone.”

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org. You can follow Toluwani on X @tosibamowo.

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