Travis C. Jones*
Congress passed the latest iteration of the five-year farm bill in February 2014, and it is scheduled to expire in 2018. Renée Johnson & Jim Monke, Cong. Research Serv., RS22131, What is the Farm Bill? 1 (2018), http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/
/assets/crs/RS22131.pdf. The reauthorization process is underway, but the House and Senate have produced starkly different versions of the new farm bill. Compare Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 Section-By-Section: Title I – Commodity Problems, Senate.gov, https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/ALL%20SBS%20S.3042.pdf (last visited Oct. 25, 2018) (outlining changes to the Farm Bill proposed by S. 3042, 115th Cong. (2018)), with Section-By-Section: H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, House.gov, https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/agriculture_and_nutrition_act_of_2018_
section_by_section.pdf (last visited Oct. 24, 2018) (outlining changes to the Farm Bill proposed by H.R.2, 115th Cong. (2018)).
The Farm bill has twelve sections, otherwise known as titles, each of which covers a specific set of programs addressed by the legislation. Johnson & Monke, supra, at 1. Of these titles, there are four major titles that account for the majority of the farm bill’s budget. See U.S. Cong. Budget Office, H.R. 2642, Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014), https://www.cbo.gov/publication/45049. These four titles cover commodities, conservation, nutrition, and crop insurance. Id. In my opinion, the most noteworthy of those titles in the current farm bill debate is Title IV, the nutrition title.
The nutrition title includes a program that many Americans utilize to provide their families with food—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously referred to as the Food Stamp Program (FSP). A Short History of SNAP, U.S. Dep’t of Agric. (Sept. 28, 2017), https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/short-history-snap. Under the current House of Representatives proposal, the overall cost of SNAP would increase, even though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) anticipates that there would be a nearly $16 billion net reduction of benefits actually going to recipients of SNAP benefits. U.S. Cong. Budget Office, H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (2018), https://www.cbo.gov
/publication/53760; see also Jonathan Coppess, Gary Schnitkey, Nick Paulson & Carl Zulauf, Initial Review of the House 2018 Farm Bill, Farmdoc Daily (Apr. 26, 2018), https://farmdoc
daily.illinois.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/fdd260418.pdf. This is largely due to the House’s demand that “workforce solutions” be included within the new Farm Bill legislation. Coppess et al., supra at 5. These “workforce solutions” are introduced in Section 4015(a) of the House’s proposed Farm Bill, and amend the previous Food and Nutrition Act of 2014 to require SNAP participants between the ages of eighteen and fifty-nine to participate in training or work programs for a minimum of twenty hours per week. H.R. 2, 115th Cong. § 4015(a) (2018). Section 4015(a) also implements a twelve-month SNAP ineligibility period for the any violation of the aforementioned work requirement. Id. Under the current language of the Bill, if a person were to work less than twenty hours over the course of any one week, even if due to illness, emergency, scheduling errors, etc., that person would not be SNAP eligible for the following year. H.R. 2, 115th Cong. § 4015(a)(1)(E) (2018). These harsh work requirements would burden the recipients, and ultimately burden the cities and states in which they live. House Farm Bill’s SNAP Cuts, Work Requirements Would Hurt People with Disabilities, Ctr. On Budget & Policy Priorities (Jul. 6, 2018), https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/5-1-18fa-brief-disability.pdf. To put this in perspective, if this new policy were to go into effect, then “beginning in 2021, an estimated 7.5 million people [across the United States] would have to prove every month that they met the requirement.” Id.
Closer to home, much of Baltimore City’s population relies on SNAP benefits. In fact, more than one hundred ninety thousand Baltimoreans receive SNAP benefits each month. Johns Hopkins Univ. Ctr. for a Livable Future, Baltimore City Food Systems Profile 2 (2014), https://mdfoodsystemmap.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Baltimore-City1.pdf. Bearing in mind that nearly two hundred thousand Baltimore residents currently receive SNAP benefits, and considering that the total population of Baltimore City was just over six hundred thousand people as of 2017, it follows that nearly one third of Baltimoreans benefit from SNAP. See U.S. Census Bureau, QuickFacts: Baltimore City, Maryland, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/baltimorecitymaryland,US/PST045217 (last visited Oct. 25, 2018). The participants who rely on SNAP benefits “aren’t stereotypes or data points; they are our family, friends and neighbors.” Michael J. Wilson, SNAP Food Program at Risk in House Farm Bill, Balt. Sun (Aug. 17, 2018, 4:50 PM), http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0824-snap-bills-20180817-story.html. The recipients include “low-wage workers, parents, children, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, primary caregivers and those with too few or unstable work hours.” Id. The fact that many SNAP recipients already have unstable work hours exemplifies why forcing these ‘workforce solutions’ into the legislation would significantly reduce the number of eligible participants. See Ctr. On Budget & Policy Priorities, supra.
“Despite providing modest benefits averaging about $1.40 per person per meal, . . . [SNAP] combats food insecurity, alleviates poverty, and has long-term positive impacts on health as well as on children’s educational attainment.” Ctr. On Budget & Policy Priorities, supra. In the near future, many Baltimore residents, and SNAP recipients all over the United States, may no longer be able to rely on this nutritional assistance from the Federal Government. See generally H.R. 2, 115th Cong. (2018). If the House’s current proposed farm bill is passed, there could be dramatic changes to the economy, and drastic changes to the standard of living for those most in need of assistance. Helena Evich, CBO Details Price Tag of House Farm Bill (Apr. 16, 2018), https://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-agriculture/2018/04/16/cbo-details-price-tag-of-house-farm-bill-170193. With all of the potential changes to SNAP coming in the near future, all U.S. citizens, especially Baltimoreans, should keep a watchful eye on the current farm bill debate unwinding in the House and Senate.
*Travis Jones is a second-year day student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he is a staff editor for Law Review. Travis is veteran of the United States Air Force, a member of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society, and is currently externing with the Office of the Attorney General of Maryland’s Environmental Crimes Unit.