Farm Bill Clears House Committee on Agriculture

Lawmakers speak in support of allowing hot foods moving forward.

May 24, 2024

The House Agriculture Committee on Thursday reported out the “farm bill” that provides $1.5 trillion in funding for food and agriculture programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill was reported out of committee on a party-line vote.

The legislation, H.R. 8674, covers a broad range of agriculture and food programs but is heavily focused on nutrition programs, especially SNAP, which constitutes approximately 80% of the bill’s funding. The farm bill still needs to be voted on by the full House and Senate.

NACS has been advocating the voice of convenience retailers on specifics related to SNAP. Out of the more than 152,000 convenience stores in the United States, more than 115,000 participate in SNAP—representing approximately 44% of all retail outlets authorized to accept SNAP benefits. Convenience stores serve as critical access points to food for SNAP families, especially in rural and urban America. NACS’ main objective is to ensure these stores can continue to meet the needs of their SNAP customers.

There are several provisions in the House bill that impact this industry’s role in SNAP.

SNAP Hot Foods

One of NACS’ top priorities for the Farm Bill has been advocating for removal of the SNAP hot foods restriction. As American eating and shopping habits have evolved since the program’s creation in the 1970s, SNAP customers should have the flexibility of purchasing hot prepared foods at authorized SNAP retail stores. NACS supported bipartisan legislation, the Hot Foods Act, which was introduced last year to make this overdue policy change. However, that language was not included in H.R. 8674. Instead, language was included to study the issue.

NACS’ position is that a study is counterproductive as this policy change is already tested and proven to work, because today, hot food sales are permitted during natural disasters when the U.S. Department of Agriculture grants hot foods waivers. During these times, SNAP authorized retailers can sell these foods and have done so successfully and without issue, further supporting the permanent removal of the hot foods restriction.

During the markup, Congressman Zach Nunn (R-IA) offered and withdrew an amendment to remove the hot foods restriction and allow for the sale of hot foods to SNAP recipients. Support for the amendment was widespread and showcased positive attitudes toward the convenience industry and Rep. Nunn entered into the Committee’s official record letters from Casey’s and NACS in support of the policy.

“These (convenience stores), in many cases, are the only place where a family working a double shift can even get access to food, let alone what might qualify for SNAP,” stated Nunn. “Granting working parents flexibility rather than restricting their options can make a difference in how we help families and help these kids. Hot and prepared food helps families make healthy choices and ultimately helps those in rural America, as well as in the food deserts of urban America. I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense reform bill to help millions of people across the country best use SNAP in a way that helps them and saves money.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), one of the original cosponsors of the Hot Foods Act, spoke in support of this policy change and how it would make the program stronger, highlighting that hot foods can be more economical. In response to Nunn, she stated, “I’m really grateful for what you conveyed as a desire to make the system a bit better for families, for working mothers, and so I just want to say thank you to you for putting this forward. I intend to support it and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

These sentiments were echoed by Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI), who stated, “There’s a couple things we can do on this Committee that are good and righteous and pure, and allowing a child on a cold Wisconsin day to go into one of our Kwik Trips, and get a hot cup of soup to warm them up on their way home? That’s good, and it’s righteous, and it’s pure.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle gave resounding support for the policy. Nunn told the Chairman that he would like to work collectively together to address this as they move the bill towards the House floor. NACS will continue to push for the inclusion of hot foods in the final version of the Farm Bill.

Permanent Ban on Processing Fees

NACS strongly supports and advocated for the inclusion of language that would permanently ban state EBT processors from charging retailers fees on SNAP transactions. That ban is included in the bill that was reported out of Committee. State EBT processors have contracts with the states that already account for the cost of processing transactions. Without a ban on these fees, these processors would be able to “double charge” and levy additional fees on retailers, which would ultimately hurt their SNAP customers. In the 2018 version of the Farm Bill, NACS, along with other retail groups, pressed Congress to include a permanent ban on EBT processing fees, but the final bill only banned those fees for five years. Achieving a permanent ban on these fees is one of NACS’ top priorities this Farm Bill and NACS will continue to advocate for it as negotiations continue.

Data Collection

The bill included language on a two-year data collection pilot that would require data aggregators to submit purchasing data for all transactions, including those purchased with SNAP benefits. While the language clarifies that retailers would not be required to share confidential business information, NACS has strong concerns that this information might not be protected.

"As Farm Bill negotiations progress, NACS will continue to serve as convenience retailers’ voice in Washington by advocating for policies that preserve the industry’s critical role in the program and allow these stores to further serve the evolving needs of their SNAP customers,” Margaret Hardin, manager of government relations at NACS.

Also, included in the Farm Bill was an amendment offered by Representative Mary Miller (R-IL) which would make any non-natural or intoxicating hemp products illegal. The amendment, targeted at products such as Delta-8 THC, was touted as fixing a so-called loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill which made hemp derived products legal but set no regulations around it. While neither NACS nor the Coalition of Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation, of which NACS is a member, took a position on the amendment, both groups support greater regulatory clarity around hemp derived products such as CBD. The future of this language is uncertain as Senate Democrats, and possibly even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who championed the original 2018 Farm Bill language, may seek to take a different approach in their version of the bill.

Every five years, Congress must reauthorize the Farm Bill and its programs. Congress passed a one-year extension last fall, meaning provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill are still in place and set to expire by September 30th this year, unless Congress passes a new Farm Bill or another extension.