LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Washington — Congress on Wednesday sent the latest farm and nutrition policy bill to President Donald Trump's desk — which was a win for Democratic Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her counterparts on the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly 87-13 Tuesday to pass the compromise package. Stabenow went to the House floor Wednesday afternoon to push for final passage there, where the vote was 369-47.

Trump expressed support for the farm bill at the White House on Tuesday and is expected to sign it. 

"Michigan really is on every page," said Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Agriculture panel.

"We grow some of everything, and it’s a very important part of our economy."

The package, estimated to cost $867 billion over a decade, covers policy areas from farm subsidies to forest management, rural broadband to urban agriculture, trade promotion to conservation programs. 

Highlights for Michigan include expanded crop insurance for fruits, vegetables, hops and barley; greater support for dairy producers, veterans and new farmers; a new federal office to advocate for urban farms; and investments in rural water infrastructure to clean up chemical contaminants such as PFAS.

The legislation increases funding from $25 million to $350 million a year for new grants for high-speed internet in rural communities and legalizes the sale and distribution of hemp products by removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. 

It also strengthens the dairy insurance program by adding coverage options at less expensive rates and refunding up to $58 million in premiums paid under the old program, which didn't cover some dairy operations' costs when the market dropped, Stabenow said. 

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican who chairs the Agriculture Committee, said the agreement on the farm bill included policy "improvements" from both the Senate and House versions. 

"This is what happens when Congress works in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion," Roberts said on the floor. 

"This may not be the best possible bill. We know that. But it is the best bill possible under these circumstances. Importantly, it provides our farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders much-needed certainty and predictability."

The bill's movement comes after a break in the impasse between Senate and House negotiators over expanded work requirements pushed by House conservatives and Trump for those who receive food stamps.

Democrats, including Stabenow, opposed the House GOP changes, which the Congressional Budget Office said would have meant 1.2 million fewer people a month could access food stamps. 

The final bill does not include cuts to benefits or changes to work requirements for the food stamp program known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It does boost the initiative providing job training to support more people moving into full-time work.

Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, lamented the conference committee didn't get more done on SNAP reforms.

"It's fair to say there's been philosophical differences in this conference committee," Conaway said on the floor. 

"Despite this, we make common-sense reforms that improve the program integrity and work requirements under SNAP, including involving governors in work-requirement waivers so that there's political accountability." 

Stabenow said Wednesday she does not support a rule floated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would make it more difficult for states to waive existing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries in areas experiencing high unemployment or limited job prospects. 

"It’s not in the farm bill because there was not support for that approach, and I’m hopeful the secretary does not go around the Congress and try to do this administratively," Stabenow said. 

Current SNAP rules include work requirements of 20 hours a week for able-bodied adults under age 50 without children, or those individuals must participate in a qualified job training program, she noted. If those requirements aren't met, benefits end after three months. 

Stabenow said she and Roberts also resisted House efforts to cut $1 billion from the conservation program and "skew" farm subsidies on big Southern crops such as cotton, peanuts and rice. 

"It was a difficult negotiation, but the bottom line is in the Senate it has to be bipartisan because you need 60 votes to pass it," she said. "If it wasn’t something that Sen. Roberts and I were proposing, it wasn’t going to pass the Senate."

The final language also excluded measures that would have weakened the Endangered Species Act and pesticide regulations, advocates said. 

A bipartisan provision by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Dean Heller, R-Nevada, also made it into the bill.

The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which passed the Senate in June, authorizes a grant program to allow more shelters for domestic-violence victims to accommodate pets — something few do today. 

Peters' office said studies have shown that domestic abusers often try to manipulate or intimidate their partners by threatening or harming their pets. The provision expands the federal criminal code to threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet.

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to decide between leaving an abusive relationship or staying and risking their safety to protect their pets,” Peters said in a statement.

“This bill will help ensure more safe havens for survivors and their pets are available, so together they can begin a new chapter in their lives.”

 

mburke@detroitnews.com

 

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2018/12/12/senate-passes-farm-bill-stabenow/2287881002/