Panetta: Farm bill fate is up to GOP

Jimmy Panetta. File photo

The 2018 Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, and Congressman Jimmy Panetta said that unless his House Agriculture Committee chair softens on President Donald Trump’s new work requirements for food stamp recipients, farm programs will begin to suffer in the new year.

In an interview this week, Panetta, whose district includes half of Gilroy and all of San Benito County, said legislation like the Farm Bill, which is up for renewal every five years, needs bipartisan agreement to succeed.

“I am still hopeful that the House and Senate negotiators are able to come together to work out differences,” Panetta said in an interview this week. “I hope we can get it done in the lame duck session.”

He said Texas Republican Michael Conaway, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, of which Panetta is a member, is the lone stumbling block to resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

The bill narrowly passed the house 213-211. The Senate version was approved on a bipartisan vote, 89-11.

The House bill includes a new work requirement for food stamp recipients, which had little support in the Senate.

“I’m completely open to talking about SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) and how we can improve it,” Panetta said. “We had 23 hearings on SNAP, with 89 witnesses, and no one talked about the changes that ended up in the proposed Farm Bill. It’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with Congressional leadership.”

“You’re not going to see any agreement out of the conference committee if the SNAP changes are in it,” Panetta predicted.

“Our farmers are facing a tremendous amount of unpredictability and uncertainty,” he said, with new tariffs as well as the Farm Bill hangup.

The 2013 farm bill expired Sunday, ending dozens of programs and putting others in a holding pattern until four key lawmakers either produce a replacement bill or seek some form of extension of the now defunct law.

The four principal negotiators working on a 2018 farm bill say they hope to resolve differences between House and Senate versions and have a conference report ready in October for a vote in the lame duck session in November or December.

In August, the American Farm Bureau Federation said, “In light of the steep, ongoing downturn in the farm economy, growing farm debt and lost access in some of farmers’ and ranchers’ biggest international markets, on-time completion of the Farm Bill is a must.”

With the expiration of the farm bill, major programs such as crop insurance and SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, will continue because they are either permanently authorized in other laws or funded by appropriators.

Other programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides 10- and 15-year contracts to farmers who take environmentally sensitive land out of production, continue to operate but cannot make new agreements or award new grants.

Programs to aid military veteran entering farming, trade promotion and small rural businesses shut down with the Farm Bill’s expiration.