Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy Name: Title IV of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, AKA the Farm Bill
Location: The 2018 Farm Bill is a bipartisan, federally-enacted law containing provisions and recommendations that will be effective on state and local levels.
Overview: Approximately every five years, the United States Congress passes a new Farm Bill whose purpose is to reevaluate the agricultural landscape of the country and determine new protections, procedures, and funding for the various players in this diverse and interwoven network of food producers, traders, and consumers. Read more about the the general purposes and development of a Farm Bill here.
Title IV of the Farm Bill covers nutrition, and with a projected budget of more than $663 billion, accounting for nearly 77 percent of total Farm Bill spending, it’s the most financially and programatically substantial title of the bill. The Nutrition Title houses the widest-reaching policy of the Farm Bill, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. SNAP provides qualifying low-income individuals and families with a nutritional safety net by using food vouchers and other local programs to supply nutritious meals to the nation’s most food insecure. The program is limited to households whose gross income is no more than 30 percent above the federal poverty line, and prioritizes children, seniors, and those with disabilities. Nationwide, SNAP serves about 9.5 million families. Because there were so many drastic changes to the program in this latest bill, we will focus solely on SNAP.
Program/Policy Initiated: Commonly referred to as “food stamps” SNAP has been around in one form or another since the late 1930s (you can read a history here). Any reforms or repeals made in the 2018 bill are now effective for the 2019 coverage cycle. Effective dates vary from one policy to another and changes may be enacted in waves.
Food policy categories:
- Food Insecurity / Food Security
- Social and Economic Equity
- Food Services
- Diet & Nutrition
Program goals: Relative to the rest of the Farm Bill, nutrition programs are those most directly aimed at addressing food insecurity in the United States by providing millions of individuals with the financial and dietary support they need.
How it works: The 2018 Farm Bill includes many amendments to national nutrition policy, and particularly to SNAP. The general plan for this cycle is to cut benefits to more than two million people and use these savings to improve the quality of the benefit allocations for those who remain covered. Here are some of the most notable changes the 2018 Farm Bill introduced to make this happen:
- According to the lawmakers, given the nation’s low unemployment rates and expected continuing economic growth, nutritional spending is projected to be $93 billion less in this farm bill cycle than it was in the 2014-2018 cycle.
- The 2018 bill limits eligibility for families who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and estimates that, as a result of these new restrictions, about 400,000 families annually will become ineligible for SNAP.
- Some savings will go towards grants to food providers like grocers to incentivize the purchase of more nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables
- The biggest change involves stricter work requirements. New working hours requirements, effective FY2021, dictate that non-exempt, able-bodied adults must work a minimum of 20 hours per week to remain eligible and expands the age range for whom this is applicable from 49 to 59 years of age. It also requires those enrolled to provide proof of employment every month. Additionally, caretakers of children six years or older will no longer be exempt. To support these changes, the new bill requires states to provide employment or job training to these adults, programs which are financed in part on the federal level. Individuals who do not comply will lose benefits for a year following their first infraction and for up to 36 months for each following infraction.
Progress to date: Given how recently the current bill was passed, it is too soon to know how these policy changes will affect food-insecure households.
Why it is important: National nutrition programs have long been a key part of ensuring that low-income individuals and families have access to adequate food and nutrition. These programs affect everything from undernutrition to obesity and ensuring that children have the sustenance to get through a school day.
Evaluation: Given the added restrictions in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is likely that many people will no longer be eligible for SNAP assistance. Because of work requirements alone, the Central Budgeting Office estimates that by FY2028, about 1.2 million recipients would lose benefits each month, and that savings from this would total about $14 billion over the next ten years. While many of those in favor of these changes argue that such shifts in requirements and spending will encourage employment, advocates of SNAP argue that they will likely do more harm than good and that the majority of predicted savings will actually result from sanctions rather than from a true increase in stable job enrollment.
Such drastic changes to a policy so integral to supporting some of our country’s most vulnerable beg us to think about whether these new requirements are purely pragmatic or whether they reflect a change in some notion of who does or does not deserve assistance?
Similar practices: To understand the context and significance of the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is useful to compare it to previous versions. To learn more about how the 2018 bill compares to the 2014 version, check out the first resource in the “Learn more” section below.
- To learn more about how the 2018 Farm Bill compares to the 2014 version, check out the Congressional Research Service’s report: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45197.pdf. Page 12 includes a brief overview of changes to policies beyond SNAP.
- To learn more about the ins and outs of SNAP, read Feeding America’s breakdown here: https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action/advocate/federal-hunger-relief-programs/snap
- To read more about the potential harmful effects of restricted SNAP eligibility, read the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ breakdown here: https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/house-farm-bill-would-increase-food-insecurity-and-hardship
Point of Contact:
House bill sponsor Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), Washington, D.C., office:
Phone: (202) 225-3605
Or, email his office via this form.