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Farm Bill Draft Keeps Subsidies, Adds Work for Food Stamps, Rejects Drug Testing

Farm bill! Farm bill! The House Agriculture Committee posted its first public draft of the 2018 Farm Bill yesterday. Corporate welfare—farm subsidies—stay the same, but people welfare—food stamps—are in Republican sights for stricter requirements:

The legislation calls for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59 to work or be enrolled in a job-training program for at least 20 hours a week beginning in fiscal year 2021. That minimum number of hours would jump to 25 hours per week starting in fiscal year 2026.

Those who violate the work requirements could become ineligible for SNAP benefits for a 12-month period. Subsequent violations could result in three years of lost benefits, “unless an individual obtains employment sufficient to meet the hourly requirement or is no longer subject to the work requirements at an earlier time,” and other conditions, according to language in the summary of the bill [Brakkton Booker, “Republican Farm Bill Calls on Many SNAP Recipients to Work or Go to School,” NPR: Food for Thought, 2018.04.12].

Not making this draft Farm Bill is mandatory drug testing for SNAP recipients, which even House Republicans admit isn’t worth the effort:

Everyone agrees that we need to weed out the bad actors. But drug testing comes at significant cost to the taxpayer. Additionally, States are not permitted to create additional conditions for eligibility.

…While States are not permitted to create additional conditions for eligibility, drug testing has been allowed and tested in multiple states. For example, before the court imposed an injunction stopping drug testing in Florida, just 2.6% (108) of over 4,000 applicants tested positive for illegal substance use in a period of six months. Florida paid $118,140 in testing, as well as $307,833 in legal fees for the appeals and combined settlements. In a six month period, Florida paid just shy of $1 million for 108 drug tests, significantly more than the total cost of benefits for those individuals [House Agriculture Committee, “Farm Bill: Question & Answer,” downloaded 2018.04.13].

It’s nice to know Republicans have recognized what this blog has documented on multiple occasions: testing welfare recipients for drugs is a waste of money (Utah, Missouri, and Tennessee got the same wasteeful results as Florida), not to mention unconstitutional, unscientific, and poorly targeted.

Donald Trump floated his own plan last week for new farm subsidies through the Commodity Credit Corporation to cushion farmers from the blow of his tariff war. But yesterday Senator John Thune and other ag-state Republicans waved him away from that idea:

The White House had been looking at using a Depression-era program known as the Commodity Credit Corp. that could be used to extend subsidies to farmers, but Republican lawmakers pushed back hard on that idea during Thursday’s meeting.

“Farmers don’t want a handout. They want access to markets,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said. “The president was surprised by that. He’s like, ‘really?’ He said, ‘Oh, really? Okay, so we won’t do that’” [Erica Werner, Damian Paletta, and Seung Min Kim, “Trump Weighs Rejoining Trans-Pacific Partnership amid Trade Dispute with China,” Washington Post, 2018.04.12].

…as if $20 billion a year in subsidies, untouched by this new Farm Bill, isn’t a handout.

One teeny-tiny change: Section 10002 increases the administrative basic fee that Kristi Noem’s husband collects when he sells crop insurance from $300 to $500. I don’t know if that fee goes in the agent’s pocket or Uncle Sam’s pocket, but that 67% increase certainly comes out of the farmer’s pocket.


  1. o 2018-04-13

    To clear up one misconception: eighty-five percent of SNAP households with children are headed by at least one working adult — contrary to the popular belief that all benefit recipients are unemployed. (

    The real question to me is how can the richest country in the world have people working full-time and still not be able to afford food for their families? Isn’t the main argument favoring farm subsidies to keep food prices reasonable?

  2. jerry 2018-04-13

    o, that is a very good question that will get no answers from republicans that is for sure. The shame of it all is that no one is looking for answers to the kinds of questions you have because that would mean the oligarchs of this country would have to start paying their fair share.

  3. Clyde 2018-04-13

    I wish that folks would stop claiming that farmers are getting huge “subsidies”. The fact is that farmers get very little out of any recent history farm bill’s. All welfare programs are lumped into the “Farm Bill” along with a heck of a lot of other stuff. How many are aware that the “Homeland Security” money that just finished putting up new fire stations all over this country was lumped into the “Farm Bill”. In the end the farmers get the word “Subsidized” tacked on to them and every tax payer cringes at the “Subsidy” that he thinks is going to fat cat farmers.

  4. jerry 2018-04-13

    Whoa Clyde, are you saying that you are a farmer that does not get a subsidy? My land gets a subsidy that is paid to the gent that leases it from me. I admit I am subsidized by the taxpayers. If you have a base, then you have a subsidy. Might as well admit it Clyde, anyone who reads these posts that is in the ag business knows full well that you are getting a subsidy just like my land is or me if I worked it. There is now a blasting late spring blizzard that has closed the interstate from Rapid City to Murdo. This is in the calving season so cows and calves may well be in the shelter of the ranch, but many will not be. There will be losses. Without that subsidized safety net, many producers could face ruin. If that happens, then so goes the banks that carry the paper for them. Not to pretty

    Now, it it a good thing or a bad thing? Ag folks should be subsidized just like all should be. There is no reason why we should let our fellow countrymen be hungry and cold, without medical treatments that should be a part of the tax that is withheld from our salaries. In short, we all should have a guaranteed income for starters and then be able to move forward to improve. That should be the Farm Bill, growing America rather than sterilizing it.

  5. o 2018-04-13

    The work requirement is a red herring, it’s purpose is to distract from or cover up for our national disgrace of the prevalence of working poor.

  6. o 2018-04-13

    Has “subsidy” language has been changed to “insurance” or “tax deduction.” Farmers now have some skin in the game, but the ability to “insure” profit is unique from other businesses. I don’t disagree wit the need or justification, but lets’ acknowledge it exists.

    Back to poverty and work:
    “In 2016 in a household of two adults, a single full-time worker at minimum wage will earn only 94 percent of their poverty threshold of $16,070. A single parent with one child will earn 91 percent of their poverty threshold.” (

  7. Diana 2018-04-13

    So when the adults don’t pass the drug tests, lose food stamps, what are the children going to eat? It always amazes me that no takes into account that the kids are the ones who will be suffering the most.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-13

    Clyde, it is true that farmers get $20 billion in subsidies, right?

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-13

    Diana, we need to keep watching, but fortunately, drug testing for SNAP isn’t in this farm bill, and the FAQ from House Ag explicitly denounces the policy as not worth the effort.

  10. Caroline 2018-04-13

    I would suggest you spend some time with a county USDA/FSA office to learn more about “farm subsidies”. You can find such offices in Aberdeen and Ipswich. I also suggest you find yourself area farmers who would be representative of large, medium, and small farms and discuss farm programs with them. While you are at the FSA office, and are visiting with farmers, have them explain crop insurance to you as well. After you get a good grassroots understanding of how these programs work and the purpose of them from varying points of view, then you can comment on these issues with more understanding and authority.

  11. Clyde 2018-04-14

    I wish to reiterate that farmers share of recent “Farm Bills” isn’t much. I’m not sure of exactly how they come up with the numbers but I would likely doubt them. As Caroline alludes to we farmers PAY for crop insurance. It is, of course, affordable because the insurance industry gets a “SUBSIDY”. So, who is really getting subsidized?? Also, when we need it our requirement for income had better be not too high because the payout isn’t all that great.

  12. jerry 2018-04-14

    Here is where it gets disastrous to the lands, when you destroy marginal grassland to cropland for the base subsidy, which is just what the USDA/FSA mostly argues against. Grassland has proven again and again to be the glue that holds the land together when droughts and wind come into play. We can see the history of that in the beautiful museum in Pierre or in several county courthouse offices, with the pictures of the 1930’s era.

    “Agriculture has the most significant environmental footprint of all human land use practices, with 38% of the earth’s terrestrial surface used as cropland and pasture for the production of food and energy (Foley et al., 2011). Much of this expansion has occurred during the two centuries from 1800 CE to the present (Klein Goldewijk et al., 2011), and the resulting conversion of billions of acres of natural ecosystems has led to loss and fragmentation of native habitats; substantial emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses; increased soil erosion; decreased water supplies and degraded water quality; and impairment of critical ecosystem services such as pollination (Foley et al., 2005). As a result, one of the most important global challenges is the need to meet increasing human demands for greater quantities and better quality of food while conserving biodiversity and sustaining critical ecosystem services”

    I know I know, this is science, and that is not appreciated when there are profits to be made. What the USDA/FSA need do to the Farm Bill is to place more acreage into soil banks. This would decrease the amount of poison we are putting into the ground, the ground water and to the drainage into our waterways. We have done this before and reaped a bonanza of wildlife, clean water and sustainable farms and ranches. Conservation works and still provides enough food for the masses at costs that make farming a viable business with the right subsidies.

  13. Clyde 2018-04-14

    A bit more.
    Cory, when the figures come out that farmers are getting 20 billion I wonder if that is what is getting into the farmers pockets or the insurance company’s pockets. If crop insurance works anything like health insurance we could expect the number actually getting to the farmer to be reduced by 1/3. I personally would expect other such accounting shenanigans as well. I would bet that the government could save money by going back to programs that payed the farmer directly when things went wrong for him.
    The insurance industry has been around forever but no one was writing policy’s to insure against weather disasters other than hail or low prices because the premium would have had to have been so high that farmers wouldn’t have bought it. BUT if we can just get the government involved!

  14. Clyde 2018-04-14

    Jerry, the link that you advised Caroline to look up is IMO very simplistic and shows a total lack of knowledge about agriculture. You are, however, right on the money about the loss of grassland and its conversion to crop land. I would argue that at least part of this can be attributed to the fact that we have thrown open our borders to imported beef. Farmers are forced to go after the most profitable use of the land. Similarly, we have driven down the real income of the beef consuming public so that it appears to many to be a luxury….even if it is imported at a price that US producers can’t compete against. I’ve been hearing, for what seems decades now, how every year we set a record for a smaller sized beef herd than the year before. We have a beef heard that in 2014-15 was 2/3 the size that it was in the mid 1970’s. We made money on cattle in 14-15 and we were answered by the government deciding that it was OK to bring in fresh beef from Brazil. Something that had never been done before because they still have hoof and mouth disease. After a year or so to dampen down our prices it was discovered that the Brazilians were adulterating the fresh beef by treating it with acid to enhance the value of it so now it is banned again. Again, the US beef producer take’s it on the chin!
    The future for beef in this country and the grass lands it needs doesn’t look bright to me. I believe that we will be driven more and more towards a third world diet because, hey, our “New World Order” one worlder’s will continue to flit around the globe to find the country’s where the people will work for the smallest bowl of rice. We will continue to be forced to compete against them and cutting consumer cost’s will be about the only way to do it.

  15. Debbo 2018-04-14

    My question regarding the work requirement concerns the one parent family. Who is going to pay for child care while that parent works? I doubt the GOP included any help for that problem. Nothing like young children trying to manage at home alone while their mom is at work.

  16. Jason 2018-04-14


    The taxpayers are already paying for their childcare. To be eligible for food stamps means your daycare is already be payed by taxpayers.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-15

    Caroline, can you tell me what facts I will learn at the FSA office that will prove incorrect any of the facts I reported? Will anyone at FSA tell me that farmers do not receive $20 billion in farm subsidies? Will they tell me they don’t actually pay $300 basic fee for crop insurance, or that the new farm bill draft wouldn’t actually raise that fee to $500?

  18. Clyde 2018-04-16

    Cory, when you go to the FSA office see if you can pin them down on that 20 billion figure. Ask them just how much actually gets to the farmer and how much is used up in administration and insurance company profits. When you ask them what the farmer gets for the BASIC fee you will find out that that is the fee he MUST pay to be eligible for anything at all. Maybe a small share of a disaster payment if things are so bad that the government declares there is one.

  19. Clyde 2018-04-16

    BTW, that BASIC fee is what he must pay if he is going to opt out of buying crop insurance. I would say that that is a PENALTY he pays for not sending money to big insurance company’s!

  20. jerry 2018-04-16

    Clyde, that link may be simplistic, but sometimes simple is what is needed to make a point. You say that farmers are now blaming imported beef of the rape of the land for more cropland and I say hooey to that. Farmers vote consistently for the importation of foreign beef, look at who represents the state. NOem, for imported beef by the way she has not only voted, but also for her position on farm committee’s, Thune proves again and again his support for imported beef, look at the way he votes, same goes for Rounds. The same will go for Krebs or Opie unless Tim Bjorkman is sent to Washington.

    Clyde, when you break up ground for the first time and plant it into a crop, did you or did you not just increase your base by that amount of ground that you controlled? So how can you loose with a crop or without a crop? To me, that is the big problem. Put less grain on the market and put the land into a soil bank, as an example to increase the demand for the crop.

  21. jerry 2018-04-16

    Here is another simplistic link on agriculture that shows how you can make more money per bushel on products other than wheat, and corn. S

    If you take a small footprint of the family farm to grow just plain old vegetables, you can make a lot more than doing to same thing over and over with the same results (insanity). Ranchers, grow your herds organically. Use the grass fed beef on lands that you actually work the cattle on to make them work the land to keep it healthy, they even give you an award for doing stuff like that What do you think of that, that is a powerful award that means you are in the business to stay in business? It just takes a little more work and a lot more planning to make your place a money maker so people like me will quit busting your chops on Farm Bills that make no sense.

  22. jerry 2018-04-16

    Clyde, when you say that our herds have diminished, would you agree with the assessment this assessment?

    “We used to talk about the average beef cow as weighing 1000 lb. But that was years ago and cattle have gotten bigger over time. This is reflected in carcass weights. In 1960 the average carcass, steers and heifers combined, weighed around 650 lb or live weight of 1000-1050 lb, about that of average cows at the time. In 1995 the average carcass weighed around 750 lb. That is now around 850 lb and is projected to be around 875 lb in four years. Recently, the average steer carcass weighed around 900 lb, or roughly 1400 lb live.” 400 pounds is a lot of chuck in a mere 20 years if you know what I mean.

  23. Clyde 2018-04-17

    Ah, Jerry you have got me there. I completely overlooked the fact that the average market animal is much bigger now. I’m not sure that the average cow is all that much bigger though since the goal has always been to have an economical cow and that is not a BIG cow. I’m still saying that there is a lot of beef coming in and that the government isn’t our friend when it comes to imports.

    I’m in agreement as to what needs to be done for the land and the future of agriculture but unless the people that are pulling the strings now are eliminated it isn’t going to happen.

    Here’s another idea, Jerry. We have been hearing about the move to the “great and glorious FREE market” for decades now. Stop subsidizing those nasty farmers! Sooooo, the farm program I would write would only support so much production from each farm. Say, a good price for production from 320 acres owned or 640 rented. Any production over that and the risk is on the producer. Such a program would stop the exodus from rural America and help the small towns. It would also encourage putting land back into pasture, reducing acreage, and only be good as I see it. Of course administration cost’s would go up because lots of folks would try to scam such a program.
    When I pick up a farm magazine and it’s telling me how to become a 10,000 acre farmer there is something badly wrong with that. Its very destructive to the land and rural America but that is the current future.

    We need progressive’s to accomplish a better farm program. I could see such a thing happening under Sanders but, I’m afraid, no one else.

  24. jerry 2018-04-17

    Clyde, that idea of your’s with the half section owned or the section rented, is exactly the kind of thinking that would put a fair market value on the crop produced. Excellent! On top of that, the government, us, should be putting marginal crop land into soil banks. When I was a young whipper snapper there were many such soil banked lands that produced an abundance of good clear water, a habitat for wildlife and a sense among the stewards of the land of actually being a part of the whole system. Most of these farmers and ranchers at that time were war veterans from World War Two and Korea and of the Dust Bowl, that had opportunity to take over and buy- out there family farm for success. What made there success, in my opinion, was the government’s foresight into the future for the well being of the land and the water that ran off those places. Now we have a great river that is silted beyond belief, we have the runoff from to many weedkillers as well as the nitrogen to make the crops grow to name a few, that have run into this great waterway. We are killing our fish, our wildlife and alas, ourselves for crops that run an engine for an oil and gas industry that is so heavily subsidized we are fighting wars over, while exporting that product. Makes no sense unless you angle the profit margins taken with our gamble money.

    I could not agree more with you on the need for a process under Sanders that would have helped start the trend towards a more equatable America where we actually give a damn about the lands and all of those that walk upon them. Put subsidies

  25. Clyde 2018-04-17

    Jerry, a couple of more points I’d like to make.

    The CRP does put land back into grass and out of production. Unfortunately, to re-enroll it the price offered is so low that it just about forces you to plow it up and go back to cropping it.

    The Clinton era farm program took away ALL farm program benefits from people that broke native sod or drained wet lands. Those restrictions are still on the book’s but if you don’t fund anyone to police them they are useless. The Republican party is famous for “de-funding” and that is exactly what has happened to administering any program that might be good for the land. My brother was going to tile a wet-land. He had the contractor lined up to do the work when I told him he had better check with the FSA office to see if it would be allowed. It wasn’t. When he told the contractor the contractor told him he was a fool for asking the FSA because no one else did. We have a swamp buster law but I’ve never seen as much tiling as has been done since it was enacted.
    Similarly, we have a sod-buster law but when a fat cat land investor near me plowed up native prairie all he had to do is put a buffer strip along a creek to be back in good grace with farm programs. Native prairie can’t be replaced. There are hundreds of species on a plot of native prairie….only a few of them are available to be replanted.

    Also would like to add a bit more. We could grow more fresh vegetables here in the mid-west but they are hardly a salvation. It sure doesn’t make sense to have California supplying the whole US by truck when, in the summer, we can grow just as good. However this subject was discussed in the 80’s when everyone was trying to come up with a way to make a buck. For perspective, one 160 acre irrigated quarter of sweet corn would supply the entire Omaha metro area with all the fresh sweet corn they normally eat. Twelve acres of horse radish supplies the WHOLE US with a years worth of consumption!

    So Jerry, Cory, and others how do we go about accomplishing the instituting of a decent farm program! One that stops turning small rural towns into ghost towns. One that helps out the farmer and small town resident instead of insurance company fat cats. One that doesn’t force maximum production using maximum inputs from Monsanto, Bayer, and Du-Pont.

  26. jerry 2018-04-17

    Clyde, CRP is not the answer, something similar to soil banks are though. They did work in the mid 50’s and 60’s so much so that wildlife and water flowed to stock dams that were not silted through.

    California is in trouble Clyde, the climate change and political change have made crops there rotting in the fields. Same so in the south.

    I cannot answer for Cory on solutions, but others are doing just that We are going to have to consider new methods and ways to utilize the lands in a more profit producing way for our main streets and our ag producers pockets. It can be done with political will and vision.

    Green beans, sweet corn and the like can not only be produced here, they can also be canned and juiced as well. We can take our great hard protein rich wheat organically and then have it milled like we used to without saturating it with poison and other chemicals. If you produce it, people will buy it.

    Organic beef, pork and free range chickens and turkey’s also a big deal at premium prices. The problems are not with the FSA, they are with the ones who supply the directives. More of our own soybeans for soy products like milk and other gluten free sources. The market dictates that. Knock those scales off producers, you have the land now show the will. First things first, get rid of the republican ideas of not having any ideas so you can move forward.

  27. jerry 2018-04-17

    Sorry to you Clyde for not providing the link on what I was meaning regarding my statement of CRP not being the answer. “Conservation efforts faded during World War II as the war effort prioritized production, but returned in the post-war years. In fact, today’s CRP is a direct descendant of the Soil Bank created by Congress and the Eisenhower Administration in 1956; designed to address surplus production with short and long-term acreage retirement programs. In 1956, Congress declared that “the production of excessive supplies of agricultural commodities depresses prices and income of farm families; constitutes improper land use and brings about soil erosion, depletion of soil fertility, and too rapid release of water from lands where it falls” (Agricultural Act of 1956, P.L. 84-540).” This link provides some strong possibilities for change rather than doing the same thing with the same results. We also need to consider transportation needs as well. The Wheat Growers are on the right track with train service that continues to extend westward and that could bring about economic growth with products other than wheat due to the strong geo thermal areas there for other types of produce. All we need is the political will of Democrats and those who have social skills to make things happen.

  28. Clyde 2018-04-18

    Wow, Jerry…..oranges grown in Alliance NE.

    I don’t disagree with your points but things would have to do a lot of changing, politically, to bring them about. I would love to see an annual set aside again.

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