Senate Agriculture Committee Debuts Its Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced its version of the 2018 farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 8. As expected, the bill takes a very different approach to authorizing agriculture and nutrition programs compared to the House of Representatives’ version of the bill. (As you may recall from our previous post, the House version (H.R. 2) was defeated by a 198-213 vote.)

Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) plans to give committee members a chance to add their amendments to the bill tomorrow, June 13, in a process called a ‘mark up.’ If the bill passes the committee by a wide margin, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have said they will quickly move it to the Senate floor for debate and a final vote on passage. Sen. McConnell has indicated he will allow up to three weeks of consideration for the bill.

The Senate bill does not include the harmful requirement that parents with children under 12 work in order to qualify for benefits, which was included in the failed House bill. This provision would require parents who are currently exempted from work requirements to secure supervisory care for their children under 12 years of age, which could be impractical given their financial situations.

The bill includes the removal of the requirement to monetize commodities provided through Food for Peace, which was a provision we supported in the failed House bill. Monetization is the requirement that U.S. commodities provided through USG feeding programs be sold in local markets in countries where the programs are operating, in order to finance development programs in those countries. Although U.S. commodities can be very useful when there is an absolute lack of food, they can also undercut developing local agricultural economies.

Finally, the bill does not include the relaxation of cargo preference that we asked for in the House bill. Cargo preference is the requirement that at least 50% of USG-impelled food shipments be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels. The cargo preference directs food aid resources away from the nutrition programs they are intended to support in order to subsidize U.S. shippers, because it effectively constrains the supply of ships available and enables shippers to exercise monopoly power. It can also cause significant delays in the shipment of food aid while available U.S.-flagged ships are identified and moved to appropriate ports. We plan to meet with Senate offices to ask that relaxation of cargo preference is included in the final bill. We look forward to the opportunity to reaffirm American values through this important legislation.