Since my first day as a member of Congress, I have made it a priority to get a five-year farm bill across the finish line. Our farmers deserve the tools and certainty necessary for them to continue to produce an affordable and stable food supply.
In June, the House voted on a comprehensive farm bill that contained significant reforms to save taxpayers’ money, reduce spending, improve farm policy, and replace wasteful government programs with commonsense reforms. Specifically, the farm bill cut $40 billion in mandatory spending, consolidated or eliminated more than 100 duplicative USDA programs, ended direct payments, and significantly reformed the food stamp program to include work-requirements and drug testing for applicants. This bill failed to pass, but the House regrouped and passed another bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 2642), which included all the agricultural provisions but did not include food stamp reform.
Recently, the House passed the second and final piece of the farm bill, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (H.R. 3102), which specifically addressed food stamp reform. This bill reforms a bloated government program responsibly and saves $40 billion in the process, helping put an end to all kinds of wasteful, fraudulent and abusive practices. Specifically, the reform bill ensures that work requirements for able-bodied adults without children are enforced, eliminates the ability of individuals who don’t qualify to be automatically enrolled in food stamps, prevents the gaming of the system through the “heat-and-eat loophole” whereby food stamp benefits are increased above what individuals are entitled to receive, prevents taxpayer-funded advocacy campaigns designed to sell people on enrolling in the food stamp program, and empowers states to engage able-bodied parents in work and job training as part of receiving food stamps.
In 2008 the cost of food stamps was $37.6 billion. In 2012, the cost rose to $78 billion. The number of able-bodied adults under the age of 50 without children enrolled in the program grew by 163.7 percent from 2007 to 2011. It is important to make sure the food stamp program is working in the most effective and efficient way to support those who truly need assistance. The food stamp program serves a noble purpose to provide support for many Americans who have hit bottom, but it’s not meant to keep them at the bottom.
With the House finally done considering the farm bill, we now move to the conference process to negotiate the two bills between the House and Senate. This can be a long and arduous process, but I hope the House and Senate leadership sense the urgency of the situation. While I do not expect all of the priorities I worked for to come back intact from the Democratically-controlled Senate, I am eager to find a deal so that we can get certainty back to our farmers across North Carolina. I am eager to see the results of the conference negotiations and will work with my colleagues in the House to ensure North Carolina’s priorities are met. We must get this comprehensive five-year bill finished. Our farmers and agribusiness community have waited long enough and our local economy depends on it.
Richard Hudson is the U.S. representative of the 8th District, which includes most of Robeson County.