Farm Bill signed into law: SNAP benefits, direct payments to farmers cut

By Eleanor Black

President Barack Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014, otherwise known as the Farm Bill, on Feb. 7 at Michigan State University. The bill authorizes $956 billion to fund agricultural and food policy programs and cuts an estimated $23 billion over the next 10 years in some of these programs.

Some significant changes made in the bill include the elimination of the direct payments program for farmers, which will be replaced by an insurance program, and $8 billion worth of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next 10 years.

As one of the proponents of the bill, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-13, made a statement regarding the bill’s passage in the House on Jan. 29, which he said would provide five years of certainty to America’s rural communities.

“I was proud to support this bill because it gives us one of the single largest cuts in mandatory spending that we’ve seen in this Congress and because it is essential that we pass a new, responsible Farm Bill that cuts spending, protects the agriculture community and reforms federal government,” Davis said in the statement.

Jonathan Coppess, a clinical assistant professor of law and policy in the college of ACES, had a role in working on the farm bill.

He served as the chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. He noted that it has been a three-year process to get the bill reauthorized after the farm bill of 2008 was extended a year, with challenges arising due to its timing.

“The reauthorization and need to write the Farm Bill came at about the same time as Congress was overwhelmingly focused on federal spending issues,” he said. “So one of the challenges was, how do you write a bill that spends money to the tune of about $100 billion a year? How do you do that in a Congress that wants to cut spending?”

He said that the delay of the bill — which should have been completed and in operation in 2012 — is due to difficulty finding compromise. The two main areas of struggle were the cuts made to SNAP and the design of the farm commodity and subsidy programs.

“On the SNAP piece, you had a very political partisan divide — you had Democrats wanting to cut as little as possible or nothing, and you had Republicans wanting to cut a lot more,” Coppess said. “That played out in a fairly destructive matter, if you will, in the summer and fall when the House actually voted down the first farm bill that came up.”

David Lloyd, senior policy analyst at the children’s advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children, said the SNAP cuts enacted by the bill will affect almost one million households throughout the United States that will lose an average of $90 in benefits per month. 

However, the $8 billion SNAP cut is far less than the original $40 billion that some Republicans had originally proposed.

But Lloyd said the cuts will only affect some states — not including Illinois — that were using a loophole to give residents increased SNAP benefits. Although Illinois will not be directly affected, the impact on the country as a whole could be detrimental.

“That affects the entire national economy, it’s not just isolated to those states necessarily, it’s not good for the country as a whole,” Lloyd said. “But that said, it’s much better than what would’ve been the case if we had enacted $40 billion in cuts. We certainly would have preferred that there had been no cuts, but it was much better than the alternatives that were being proposed.”

Overall, Coppess said that the benefits will be “in the eyes of the beholder” and uses the elimination of $5 billion in direct subsidies as an example. He said that in the last few years, the country has seen good prices and strong farm incomes, leading people to ask why payments continued to be made to farmers who are doing well when the U.S. has a federal spending problem.

“There are many who view eliminating direct payments as a very good reform, and if you take a very neutral stance on farm policy, it’s very hard to justify a $5 billion stream of payments out to farmers if they don’t have losses and they have good years,” he said. “This is a program that pretty much everybody agreed needed to be cut. But there are farmers who utilize the direct payments, so they may not necessarily think it was a great thing to lose it.”

In its place will be an insurance program that aids farmers only when help is needed. Coppess said there is an attempt to provide assistance to farmers when they encounter losses or have risks in producing crops.

He added that the farm bill also has a positive impact on the University as it provides the authorization to fund agricultural research programs.

“You’ll see a lot of the University help work through and explain these new programs as well as turning federal research dollars into new crops and new opportunities for farmers,” he said. “It’s a big, very positive development for the University.”

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]