An agriculture bill supported by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.
The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.
The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.
SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20 hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits. The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59, but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.
In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia's intervention in the Yemeni civil war.
This effectively limits the Senate's Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi Arabia to a symbolic gesture.
This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and 87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.
The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.
“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA.
“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.
The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to serve more people.”
The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.
The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.
“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”