Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is throwing his weight behind the GOP in a ballooning fight over food stamps that is threatening the quick passage of the most important legislation for the sprawling federal department he oversees.
The former Georgia governor said Tuesday that changes Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee are pursuing in the upcoming farm policy bill that would boost work requirements for food stamp recipients are “reasonable” and “worth fighting for.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, was “supposed to be a hand-up, not a continual dependency,” Perdue told reporters after touring a local greenhouse here. “I think the current proposal that the House Republicans have had is trying to lift people out of dependency to a job and to a workforce so that they can become productive citizens.”
The House Agriculture panel has yet to release the draft text of the legislation, but it’s already the subject of a deep partisan impasse.
Democrats last month abandoned negotiations over the typically bipartisan measure in part because of the proposed changes to SNAP. Those reportedly include expanding the number of able-bodied adults who would be required to work to receive benefits beyond a three-month window. The Republican chairman of House Agriculture subsequently announced plans to move ahead on the bill without the Democrats.
That creates deep problems for the measure’s political prospects moving forward, since there is a core group of House conservatives that is already opposed the crop subsidies that are renewed in such legislation. Any final proposal must also win the backing of at least nine Senate Democrats to avoid a filibuster.
The farm bill would not only set the rules of the road for SNAP and crop subsidy levels, but hand Perdue’s U.S. Department of Agriculture fresh policy guidance for the next five years. Current programs expire on Sept. 30.
Perdue for months has spoken about the need to think differently about the SNAP program. His unorthodox idea to replace some food stamp benefits with a "harvest box" of nonperishable goods was swiftly panned in Washington, but he has also made several quiet regulatory moves that could open the door to major changes to the safety net program in the years to come.
Perdue said Tuesday that delaying final passage of the new farm bill would be “problematic” for his department and the industries it oversees but said he was optimistic that both parties could strike a final agreement.
“But I think the principles of food stamps and continual dependency is one that’s worth fighting for and I think we can reconcile to one another and to come up with a good product,” he said.