Battle lines being drawn as Farm Bill looms

With the upcoming expiration of the US Farm Bill in September, lawmakers are drawing battle lines over numerous issues that impact the lives of millions of people, from food assistance to farm subsidies and more.

As in past years, the debates are shaping up with a focus on programs aimed at helping provide nutrition to needy families, but some environmental and public health advocates say the bill also offers an opportunity to tackle concerns about harmful pesticides used in agriculture and farmworkers health issues — an opportunity they hope lawmakers won’t miss.

“There’s never been any attention on pesticides and farmworker health,” said Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist at the advocacy group Pesticide Action Network (PAN). “So if we get any, that’ll be progress.”

Hunger and “hypocrisy”
Much of the debate over the upcoming Farm Bill is expected to target questions about whether to expand, reform, or cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), an anti-hunger program that helps low-income families purchase food. SNAP makes up about 80% of funding in the current Farm Bill.

“In this current Congress, that’s going to get a lot of airtime,” Reeves said.

The debate heated up last month, when House Agriculture Committee member Dusty Johnson (R-SD), along with 23 other House Republicans, proposed legislation for the upcoming bill that would strengthen the eligibility requirements for SNAP. The measure, dubbed the America Works Act of 2023, would expand the number of people subject to SNAP’s work requirements, potentially jeopardizing food benefits for more than 10 million people, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Republican Study Committee’s 2023 proposed budget seeks to remove SNAP benefits from the Farm Bill altogether.