Final farm bill vote expected this week, impacting crop insurance, food stamps

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WNC’s McHenry, Meadows, Foxx votes detailed

Apples ready for picking at Skytop Orchard in Henderson County, in 2011. Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

Apples ready for picking at Skytop Orchard in Henderson County. Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

U.S. senators are expected to pass a five-year agreement on farm subsidies this week, expanding a federal program for crop insurance and trimming funding for food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade.

The bipartisan measure cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 29, with broad support from members of the North Carolina delegation. Western North Carolina Reps. Patrick McHenry and Mark Meadows cast votes in favor of the bill, while Rep. Virginia Foxx was one of 65 Republicans to vote “no.”

All three are Republicans, with McHenry representing the 10th District, Meadows representing the 11th District and Foxx representing the 5th District, which includes Watauga County.

Coming on the heels of January’s budget deal and appropriations bill, the legislation suggests a Congress marked by gridlock and brinksmanship may have turned a corner. The farm bill, which will become the first approved by Congress since 2008, puts an end to a system of direct payments made to farmers regardless of profits or crop plantings, and grows an insurance program geared at allowing them to budget realistically.

In all, the bill is estimated to eliminate $16.6 billion from the federal deficit in the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Meadows, who along with McHenry and Foxx, voted for a previous version of the bill that would have cut $40 billion from the food stamp program, said in a news release he would have liked to see the measure include greater reforms.

“Though I encouraged House leadership and the House Agricultural Committee to include more conservative reforms, I do believe this bill is a step in the right direction,” Meadows said. “The people of the 11th District agree, as constituents polled prior to the vote supported passage of this legislation three-to-one.”

According to an Associated Press analysis, more than 1.6 million North Carolinians receive some form of benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with an average monthly benefit of $121. The number makes up 17.1 percent of the state population, though the total amount has dropped in recent years, and these residents will not be affected by the national legislation.

Food Stamp SNAP North CarolinaAt least $200 million of the cuts to SNAP will be put back toward pilot programs aimed at testing ways to improve training opportunities for those already on SNAP rolls, according to a Politico report. In all, the SNAP program accounts for $80 billion in federal spending per year.

Lawmakers, particularly those serving in rural districts, will likely champion their support of the legislation in the lead-up to mid-term elections. Already, North Carolina Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan has emphasized her approval of the bill, pointing out a set of amendments geared at benefiting those involved in the state’s $77 billion-a-year agriculture industry.

“Agriculture is the largest industry in our state, and I’m proud that this agreement includes several provisions I worked on to help North Carolina farmers sustain losses due to events outside their control,” Hagan said, in a statement. “I urge the Senate to pass this legislation without delay so we can keep this important economic engine running and support our rural communities.”

Despite estimates on cost-savings, determining the bill’s final reduction to the national deficit will be subject to various unknowns, such as weather or changes to SNAP enrollment over time, according to an NPR report.

A final vote on the measure is scheduled for Tuesday.

Clarification: The reduction in SNAP targets an option for added benefits offered to households who are also on federal heating assistance. The option is embraced by 16 states, not including North Carolina, meaning the state’s 1.6 million residents who are receiving some form of SNAP benefit will not be affected.

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James Harrison

James Harrison is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Reach him at jharrison@carolinapublicpress.org.

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