Trump budget proposal slashes crop insurance, turns SNAP into ’Blue Apron’ for the poor

President Donald Trump released his fiscal year 2019 budget Feb. 12 to near universal derision in agriculture and food program circles.

Trump’s budget cuts agricultural programs by $47 billion over 10 years, highlighted by a $26 billion cut in crop insurance subsidies. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would also see cuts of $192.2 million with a 10 percent decrease in enrollment and convert part of the current program where SNAP payment recipients would instead receive a monthly box of U.S.-grown food.

The proposals are already dead on arrival in the House and Senate agriculture committees.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-TX, issued the joint statement saying, “As Chairmen of the Agriculture Committees, the task at hand is to produce a farm bill for the benefit of our farmers, ranchers, consumers and other stakeholders.

“This budget, as with every other president’s budget before, will not prevent us from doing that job. We are committed to maintaining a strong safety net for agricultural producers during these times of low prices and uncertain markets and continuing to improve our nation’s nutrition programs.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, said the proposal cuts overall USDA spending by 16 percent, on top of cutting farm bill investments by $260 billion—a $30 billion increase in farm bill cuts from the previous year’s proposal.

“The Trump administration’s budget proposal is out of touch with our farmers, families and rural communities,” Stabenow said. “The proposed cuts to both the USDA and the farm bill would hurt American agriculture, neglect rural businesses, and leave families and seniors behind.

“This is especially troubling given the state of the fragile rural economy. If taken seriously, this budget would make it impossible for Congress to pass a farm bill this year. Our farmers and small towns can count on me to oppose these cuts and instead work to pass a bipartisan farm bill that supports our rural communities and families.”

No matter what Congress says, the administration’s summary of the cuts says it will “optimize and improve crop insurance and commodity programs in a way that maintains a strong safety net. The budget does this while also achieving savings, eliminating subsidies to higher income farmers and reducing overly generous crop insurance premium subsidies to farmers and payments made to private sector insurance companies.

“The budget includes a bold set of proposals, including those that would reduce the average premium subsidy for crop insurance from 62 percent to 48 percent and limit commodity, conservation and crop insurance subsidies to those producers that have an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or less.

“In addition, the budget proposes reductions to overly generous subsidies provided to participating insurance companies by capping underwriting gains at 12 percent, which would ensure that the companies receive a reasonable rate of return given the risks associated with their participation in the crop insurance program. The budget proposes to eliminate an unnecessary and separate payment limit for peanut producers and limit eligibility for commodity subsidies to one manager per farm.”

‘America’s Harvest Box’

Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, in a briefing to the White House press corps, credited Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue with the concept of “America’s Harvest Box” in which SNAP recipients would get food instead of a payment.

Under the plan, households receiving $90 or more per month in SNAP benefits will receive about half of those benefits in the form of a USDA foods package, which would include items such as shelf-stable milk, breakfast cereal, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish.

“We thought it was a tremendous idea so what we do is propose that, for folks who are on food stamps—part, not all—part of their benefits come in the actually sort of—and I don’t want to steal somebody’s copyright—but a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash,” Mulvaney said.

“It lowers the cost to us because we can buy prices at wholesale, whereas they have to buy it at retail. It also makes sure that they’re getting nutritious food. So we’re pretty excited about that. That’s a tremendous cost savings.”

The plan also kills the Conservation Stewardship Program, Livestock Forage Program, and Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

CRP tightened

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It further tightens rules for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program to environmentally sensitive areas, limits the enrollment of whole farm fields (with the exception of grasslands) and eliminates all funding for signing and practice incentive payments, with the exception of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. CRP payments would also be capped at 80 percent of local rental rates.

Other programs that would be killed under the Trump 2019 budget proposal include the Food For Peace, McGovern-Dole International School Feeding and Food For Progress programs.

Other programs that would be eliminated include the Rural Business and Cooperative, Rural Water and Wastewater Grants, and Single Family Housing Direct Loan programs. Interest payments to electric and telecommunications utilities would also end.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Packers and Stockyards program and Agricultural Marketing Service would be placed under a user fee basis.

The budget proposal was not only criticized by members of Congress, but also by a variety of farm and nutrition groups on both sides of the aisle. 

Safety net needs to stay

National Association of Wheat Growers President and Outlook, Montana, farmer Gordon Stoner said in a statement, “The administration’s proposed cuts to key farm bill programs are not only detrimental to wheat growers but all farmers across the country.

“The farm bill provides crucial safety net programs that growers need to ensure a safe and abundant food supply. It also provides funding for important programs in conservation, research, and trade that help keep America’s wheat industry productive and competitive on a global scale.

“These cuts to the farm bill’s crop insurance programs are simply unacceptable. These programs aren’t hand-outs, but rather they provide a risk management tool for growers who face unforeseeable disasters and allow them to farm another year. Further, the 12 percent cap on underwriting gains prevents crop insurance companies from being able to provide strong policies to growers.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].