WASHINGTON – On Friday, the House of Representatives failed to pass its version of the Farm Bill, a behemoth legislative vehicle that Congress considers every four years to reauthorize agriculture programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite House leaders delaying the final vote on the bill in a last ditch effort to pull conservative votes on the floor, the bill failed on a predominately party line vote of 198 to 213. Of the 213 votes against the bill, 183 were from Democrats and 30 from Freedom Caucus Republicans.
The 115th Congress’ iteration of the Farm Bill, formally titled “H.R.2, the Agriculture & Nutrition Act of 2018,” was authored and introduced by Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Mike Conaway (R-TX). Throughout the Farm Bill process and negotiations, NACS has advocated on behalf of the convenience store industry for policies that will preserve the critical role convenience stores play in SNAP.
During the amendment process, NACS along with other retail groups advocated against an amendment filed by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) that would have permitted the public release individual store level data as it relates to SNAP. In response to substantial grassroots pushback from retailers, including many convenience store operators, the amendment was voted out of order by the House Rules Committee and not permitted to come to the House floor.
There are several provisions in the Conaway Farm Bill that would have impacted convenience stores:
Processing Fees - This provision prohibits interchange fees, processing fees, or routine fees on all Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) transactions. Currently, interchange fees are prohibited on all SNAP transactions. On commercial transactions, these fees are the second highest operating cost for convenience stores. NACS strongly supports this language in the bill.
Modernizing EBT technologies – This provision calls for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to periodically review EBT regulations and consider evolving payment technologies that are available as well as alternatives for securing and authenticating a transaction.
Mobile Technologies – This provision will allow for the use of mobile technologies to redeem SNAP benefits following the completion of a pilot program consisting of no more than five state agencies. If the Secretary of Agriculture determines that implementation requires further study of the pilot program, he will need to submit a report to Congress justifying the determination.
Retail Food Stores Data Collection – This provision requires FNS to conduct a retailer survey every two years that is designed to uncover what is being purchased by SNAP recipients at retail food stores.
National Gateway – This provision requires that all SNAP transactions be routed through a national gateway that will be sustained through the payment of fees by benefit issuers and third-party processors.
The Nutrition title of the Farm Bill—the section of the legislation that addresses nutrition related matters—is often the most contentious because of differing partisan views on SNAP. The Conaway bill includes provisions that would tighten current eligibility and work requirements for SNAP recipients. These provisions are strongly opposed by the House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Democratic leadership, and the Democratic conference. As a result, all Democratic members voted against final passage.
Next in the Farm Bill process, the Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to consider their version of the bill in the next few weeks and then move it to the Senate floor for a vote this summer. Generally, once each chamber passes its version of the Farm Bill, lawmakers have to reconcile the differences in the two bills. In light of Friday’s failed House vote, however, it is unclear when the House will reconsider the legislation and what the timing will be to get a final version to the President’s desk.
Please stay tuned to the NACS Daily for updates on the Farm Bill process.