Proposed 2018 Farm Bill affects farmers, ranchers and nutrition programs

Proposed 2018 Farm Bill affects farmers, ranchers and nutrition programs

COMANCHE COUNTY, Ok (KSWO) - It's a piece of legislation that affects everyone, despite its name. The 2014 Farm Bill is up for renewal this year and it includes several programs from crop insurance, to conservation and nutrition.

Representing a district that has up to 15,000 farms and ranches in it, Congressman Tom Cole says there are several key elements in the proposed five year bill. For farmers, the important elements include crop insurance, agricultural research, and conservation.

"There is lots of money in here that pays for conservation and helps pay for land that you can keep in grass," said Congressman Cole. "Conservation lets it recharge itself. There is research, where some of our ag universities for better farming methods so we don't lose so much to the wind."

The House Agriculture Committee also added programs to take care of cotton farmers and dairy producers. Cotton production in Oklahoma is exploding, but those farmers are dealing with chance, taking a risk on whether or not they'll have a viable crop.

Jimmy Kinder farms wheat, canola, sesame and grain sorghum in Cotton County and says another important element in the proposed bill is money for disaster programs.

"We see drought, multi year droughts," Kinder said. "It can take a good viable farmer out of business. All of the sudden you lose your productivity in agriculture. It's important to know those programs are in place to stabilize those environmental extremes."

The United States has an incredibly productive agricultural sector, where just 3% of the population feeds the rest. So in terms of money set aside for agriculture, Congressman Cole says funding is essential for Oklahomans.

"I don't think you could sustain agriculture in Oklahoma without a robust farm bill," he said. "You need to develop the market, but that crop insurance element is so critical."

About 80% of the proposed bill deals with nutrition programs, like SNAP. Some food stamp recipients would be subject to a stricter income limit. Right now, the maximum household income for eligibility is at 200%, where it would drop to 130% for certain applicants, cutting off 400,000 households.

"With the additional cuts, it'll place an extra burden on food banks across the nation in order to provide those emergency meals for hungry Americans," said Cassie Gilman, the Chief Advancement Officer for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. "We serve around 600,000 Oklahomans on an annual basis, so there's no way that our food bank and sister food banks would be able to provide that critical support."

Under the proposed legislation, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59 without young children would be required to work at least 20 hours a week. Those who aren't working would be required to go to job-training classes for the same amount of time.

"There is always a role to make sure people don't go hungry, that's the last thing we want," Congressman Cole said. "But we should also want you to strive, work, find gainful employment and not simply accept food stamps and think that's a good way to live, its not."

While Gilman says they don't believe work requirements should be mandatory, they support job-training, although she is skeptical of the resources Oklahoma has to do so.

"It's just another barrier for people with emergency food assistance when they need it the most."

Gilman clarified many food stamp recipients do have jobs, although some are under-employed or working two jobs to make ends meet.

The Farm Bill has passed the House Ag Committee on a straight party line vote. The process to get it passed through the House is underway while the Senate continues work on their version of the bill. Congressman Cole says if they are unable to conference out a bill, the current farm bill would be extended one to three years.

According to the Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump is expected to tell senior lawmakers this week he will veto the Farm Bill if it doesn't include those work requirements for people receiving food stamps. White House officials have not responded for comment.

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