The deadline for Congress to reauthorize the “farm bill” is fast approaching. The current farm bill, signed in 2014 by President Barack Obama, is 357 pages long and authorized $957 billion through 2024. It includes farm subsidies, rural development, environmental conservation, food assistance, as well as the all-important Christmas Tree Promotion Board. Thankfully, the bill expires September 30.
The first farm bill, known as the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), was passed during the Great Depression under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms. The original bill included provisions such as government subsidies to farmers for not growing crops and government purchases of livestock for slaughter. As the government was artificially boosting prices, reducing crop yields, and destroying livestock, millions of Americans were struggling to put food on the table.
Eighty-four years later (and well beyond the end of the Great Depression), each new iteration of the farm bill has grown in size and scope. For instance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), created during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society in 1964, initially appropriated $75 million in benefits to 350,000 Americans. SNAP, also known as food stamps, now engulfs more than 75 percent of the farm bill’s annual budget. In 2016, SNAP doled out benefits to approximately 44.2 million people (44 percent were children) at a cost of $70.9 billion to taxpayers. Although there has been a steady decline in SNAP participation since 2013, there are now almost 18 million more individuals receiving food stamps than there were in 2007.
SNAP’s skyrocketing costs, coupled with a surging economy and record-low unemployment rate, has put the program under intense scrutiny from many who believe lax eligibility guidelines should be strengthened to increase self-reliance and decrease government dependence.
The proposed farm bill addresses this basic concern by increasing work requirements on able-bodied adults, except those who are pregnant or care for children under age six. The bill would also mandate adults aged 18–59 work or participate in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week to receive benefits. Beginning in 2026, the work and job training requirements would increase to at least 25 hours per week. Currently, adults over age 50 and those who have a dependent child are exempt from work mandates.
So-called “lock-out provisions” would also be strengthened. For example, recipients who fail to meet work requirements one time would be ineligible to receive benefits for 12 months and ineligible for 36 months for subsequent violations. The U.S. House of Representatives estimates these reforms would affect between five million and seven million food stamp recipients and about one million of them would move off the program over the next decade.
States that have enacted similar work requirements for their SNAP programs have a proven track record of success. Just three months after Maine required able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) to work or participate in job training programs, the state’s food stamp caseload plummeted nearly 80 percent, from 13,332 recipients in December 2014 to 2,678 in March 2015. In 2016, Georgia imposed work requirements that resulted in a steep 62 percent reduction of ABAWD on the Peach State’s welfare rolls. After Alabama enacted similar work requirements on ABAWD in 2017, SNAP recipients dropped 85 percent.
The Heartland Institute champions work requirements because they reduce government spending and encourage economic independence—just as the majority of Americans do. Other worthy SNAP reforms include eliminating state waivers that exempt recipients from work requirements, structuring requirements so they don’t inadvertently penalize married couples, and giving states flexibility in administering their SNAP programs. Hopefully, Congress will include some of these commonsense reforms into the 2018 version of the farm bill.
What We’re Working On
Budget & Tax
Ending Prevailing Wage Could Save Michiganders Millions
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines a referendum that would repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law. “Prevailing wage laws reduce competition, increase construction project costs, and encourage waste and cronyism. Taxpayers are the biggest losers in this government-sanctioned scheme, and government-contracted workers and corrupt politicians are the only ones reaping the benefits. Prevailing wage requirements should be stopped immediately, and in its place, market forces should determine what workers deserve to be paid,” wrote Glans.
California Lawmakers Looking to Impose Price Controls on Doctors and Hospitals
In this Research & Commentary, State Government Relations Manager Charles Katebi analyzes a proposal in California that would establish a government commission to determine health care prices. “Instead, lawmakers should reduce health care costs by empowering consumers with more affordable options. This worthy goal is best accomplished by rolling back burdensome, costly regulations and passing laws that increase choices for patients, such as permitting direct primary care agreements, expanding the role of advanced practice registered nurse clinics, and legalizing independently operating dental therapists,” wrote Katebi.
Wisconsin School Choice Students Are Outperforming Their Public School Peers
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson looks at a new peer-reviewed study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty showing charter schools and private schools participating in the state’s school choice programs are outperforming traditional public schools (TPS). The study shows students in Wisconsin’s multiple voucher programs are outperforming their TPS peers in English language arts (ELA) proficiency by 2.5 percentage points. Charter school students also score 2.28 percentage points higher in ELA proficiency than their TPS peers. On the ACT standardized test, voucher students statewide score 0.678 points higher, on average, than their TPS peers. Charter students also score 0.503 points higher. Students participating in Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the state’s largest school choice program by participation and the oldest private school choice program in the country, outperform students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) by 4.33 percentage points in math proficiency and 5.83 percentage points in ELA proficiency. Experts believe Catholic and Lutheran schools were the main drivers of this performance advantage.
Energy & Environment
Energy Department Calls for Smaller, Modular Coal Power Plants
In this article for Environment & Climate News, Joe Barnett, a program development consultant with the Beacon Hill Institute, writes about a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) plan to help develop smaller, modular, coal-fired power plants that are more efficient and flexible than larger facilities. DOE’s budget justification document states the agency is seeking private sector partners to develop at least two designs of small, modular coal plants by 2022. Barnett writes DOE’s budget requests $175 million to develop the new higher-efficiency coal generators, and the department would pay for the new designs in part through funds shifted from its program to develop carbon capture and sequestration technologies.
From Our Free-Market Friends
Education Spending Provided No Improvement for Washington Students
Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center comments on a new government education report on student performance in Washington State. The Nation’s Report Card, published by the U.S. Department of Education, shows test scores in various subjects have been mostly stagnant for 4th and 8th graders in Washington State, and that performance gaps between minority and white students remain wide. These lackluster results come despite the fact public education spending has increased in the Evergreen State by $9.7 billion since 2009, a 75 percent surge. Finne contends increasing school choice options, not school funding, would improve student performance.
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