Senate Passes 2018 Farm Bill Legalizing Hemp, Ditching SNAP Work Requirements

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Don Ryan

The Senate passed the updated 2018 Farm Bill on Tuesday, which legalized hemp and did away with implementing work requirements to receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Senate voted 87-13 to pass the legislation, which lawmakers unveiled Monday evening after months of back-and-forth negotiations and debate over whether work requirements should be included in the 2018 Farm Bill. Every single Senate Democrat voted for the revised bill, and eight Republicans opposed it.

The bill, if it passes the House, would take the place of the Farm Bill which expired on September 30.

“The 2018 Farm Bill is our opportunity to make the American food and agriculture systems work more efficiently. I’m pleased to say we have done just that in this conference report,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement. “I thank my counterparts in the Senate and House for coming to — and staying at — the table to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement for rural America.”

The legislation authorizes funding for agriculture and nutrition assistance programs for five years, legalizes commercial hemp, gives farmers subsidies, but does not include the reform requiring food stamp beneficiaries to work a defined number of hours to receive benefits.

House lawmakers passed a prior version of the bill in June, which did include the work requirements provision mandating that food stamp recipients work, volunteer, attend school, or take part in job training for a minimum of 20 hours a week to receive benefits.

Many states had implemented similar work requirements for food stamps at the state level over the past few years, and some have reported significant drops in SNAP participation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) noted that enrollment in the program decreased by 2.9 percent nationwide in the fiscal year (FY) 2017, partly because of those state-level reforms.

The bill is now on its way to the House for a vote, where it is expected to pass and head to President Donald Trump’s desk as early as this week. Trump expressed support for the bill on Tuesday, even though he had urged the Senate to pass work requirements as part of a welfare reform package back in August.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also voiced his support for the legislation despite promoting the work requirements as a means of self-sufficiency as recently as July.

But not everyone is happy with the revised 2018 Farm Bill.

Heritage Action for America cautioned lawmakers to vote against the bill on Tuesday.

“Well designed work requirements for food stamp recipients are essential to reduce poverty, government dependence and to improve our labor force,” the group said in a statement.

It is unclear whether enrollment in the nation’s food stamp program will continue its steady decline from 2013 onward with the relaxed provisions on welfare reform in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The latest USDA statistics show that 3.5 million people have discontinued their participation in SNAP since Trump’s first full month in office.

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