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Could a change to SNAP mean a change to the entire farm bill?

In a time where some pollsters are reporting gains in President Donald Trump's approval ratings and where other news abounds concerning midterm elections — still 9 months away — it is interesting to see where policy is intersecting with agriculture. There was news this past week that affects the U.S. Department of Agriculture's budget, and that news had to do with a Trump administration proposal regarding food stamps.

The food stamps program is actually called the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," and is commonly referred to as SNAP. In 1969, SNAP cost taxpayers approximately $250 million. In 2016, that cost was approximately $70 billion. As a percent of the 2014 farm bill, according to the Economic Research Service of the USDA, nutrition programs account for approximately 80 percent of total farm bill expenditures. Stated differently, the Congressional Budget Office projected farm bill total expenditures from 2014-18 to be $489 billion. Of that $489 billion, approximately 80 percent is nutrition programs. The remaining expenditures are on commodity programs, crop insurance and conservation programs.

The Trump administration set forth a proposal last week called "America's Harvest Box." According to Politico, the proposal would replace roughly half of what families receive as SNAP. The harvest box would consist of "100 percent U.S. grown and produced food," and would include milk, peanut butter, canned fruit and meats and cereal.

The trick with any delivery of actual food, whether it's the local "Meals on Wheels" program or a program like "America's Harvest Box," is making sure the food is safe, non-perishable and deliverable to the recipient. According to the Trump administration's proposal, individual states would have flexibility in how they choose to distribute the food. The concept of this program was, according to USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh, developed internally at the USDA. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has also been credited for development of the idea.

Nearly all farmers should be interested in how this proposal develops. There are several reasons farmers should be interested. As an initial matter, it directly affects USDA spending, and it's possible that money saved on 80 percent of the farm program budget could actually be shifted to the commodity programs, crop insurance and conservation programs that are covered by the other 20 percent of the farm program budget.

But even more interestingly, this proposal appears to be a possible step towards decentralization of the farm program. In other words, it appears that the federal government is willing to lean on the state government to determine how to deliver the meals in "America's Harvest Box." If that is the case, could it be that the federal government would also entertain decentralization of commodity programs, crop insurance and conservation programs?

Farmers who have had to face off with the federal government for possible wetlands violations or federal farm program violations have often been flummoxed by the layers of bureaucracy inherent in an action against the federal government. The amount of time and money necessary to engage in these USDA agency disputes can be overwhelming, and I have seen several farmers "give up" on fighting these actions based upon inability to spend the time and money necessary to keep up the fight.

However, if the USDA begins to shift more authority to the state and local level, including decision-making authority to address adverse actions, that could mean that producers who previously were unable to engage in such actions could now afford to do so.

Granted, this is a fairly large logical leap from a federal budget proposal on SNAP to a revamping of how federal farm programs are administered. But for farmers who have watched the federal farm programs and other issues like WOTUS grow in size, scope and cost over the past few decades, it certainly is an interesting first step.

As always, if you believe you have an adverse action involving a federal agency, like USDA, EPA or the Corps of Engineers, seek competent legal counsel.

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