OUR OPINION: Senate’s farm bills seems better for Mississippians

By NEMS Daily Journal

Debate in the U.S. House on the 2013 farm bill probably begins this week, as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has indicated, and the House version under discussion will offer some sharp contrasts to the Senate farm bill passed on a strong bipartisan vote on Monday.
The Senate bill bears the imprint of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who became Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition’s ranking member this year. Cochran also is a former Agriculture chairman in a Republican majority.
Cochran, along with most other strongly interested senators and House members, expect a conference and hope for a passable, reasonable compromise.
However, in 2012 the Senate passed a similar bill and it was never taken up in the House. Agriculture programs broadly speaking are operating under an extension of the 2008 bill until Sept. 30.
The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S.954), adjusted for sequestration cuts, would cut about $18 billion compared to the 2008 bill in force, and the House would cut about $33 billion, the Congressional Budget Office has reported. Both figures are likely to change.
Cochran has said the Senate farm bill eliminates direct payments to farmers, reforms crop insurance, and limits payments to producers. It would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (an entitlement) spending by about $4 billion. A House version would cut SNAP by $20 billion. Cochran has indicated he is optimistic about a reasonable meeting of minds.
The five-year plan passed by the Senate, it is reported, would cost about $500 billion.
The bills, CBO has reported, “differ most notably in their estimated reductions to SNAP spending. The House-reported bill proposes to restrict categorical eligibility (estimated to reduce SNAP spending by approximately $11.6 billion over 10 years), whereas the Senate bill does not include such a restriction.”
Whatever the outcome, SNAP spending will be huge. It consumes 68 percent of the spending under the 2008 farm bill.
In Mississippi, about 20 percent of residents receive some kind of nutrition assistance. In the 1st Congressional District, USDA figures show 35,263 of 289,000 total households receiving nutrition help, SNAP households in the 1st District have a median household income of $13,328 compared to $43,294 for non-SNAP households: $847.5 million in fiscal year 2010, to a monthly average of 575,674 people in Mississippi.
USDA also calculates the economic multiplier at $9 in local activity for every $5 in SNAP investment in Mississippi, which means the loss of significant SNAP outlays in the state would have some negative effect on the general economy.
Cochran, of course, voted for the 2013 Senate bill, as did Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
An outcome more like the Senate’s spending rule in the farm bill of 2013 would be to many Mississippians’ nutritional advantage.