US Capitol dome. Credit: Dan Thornberg/Shutterstock.
By Christine Rousselle
Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported
by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on
Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also
passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.
The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed
each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and
amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.
The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some
of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial
provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the
House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.
SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food
items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and
49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20
hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits.
The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59,
but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.
In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for
floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators
from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Yemeni civil
This effectively limits the Senate’s Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi
Arabia to a symbolic gesture.
This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and
87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.
The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.
“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for
all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to
aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a
Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic
organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities
“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report
includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and
strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.
The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to
rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security
programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to
serve more people.”
The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including
subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation
programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns
subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not
always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.
The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.
“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit
subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”