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story.lead_photo.caption In this May 16, 2018, file photo, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, speaks about the farm bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House easily passed on Dec. 12, the farm bill, a massive legislative package that reauthorizes agriculture programs and food aid. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

After months of debate and negotiation, Congress voted final approval Wednesday to a farm bill that will provide more than $400 billion for agriculture subsidies, conservation programs and food aid.

The House voted 369-47 for the legislation, which sets federal agricultural and food policy for five years, after the Senate approved it 87-13 on Tuesday. It is now headed to the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

All four U.S. House members from Arkansas favored the bill. Forty-four Republicans and three Democrats opposed the legislation.

The measure reauthorizes crop insurance and conservation programs and pays for trade programs, disaster assistance for farmers, bioenergy production, loan programs and organic farming research. It also reduces the cost for struggling dairy producers to sign up for support programs and legalizes the cultivation of industrial hemp.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said the final bill looks at "stresses and strains across all of rural America, economic development issues and just the practice of farming and ranching. It says: Here are federal resources we want to put against those problems."

One thing the bill doesn't include: tighter work requirements for food-stamp recipients, a provision of the House bill that was celebrated by Trump but became a major sticking point during negotiations. It reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food aid to roughly 40 million people nationwide. Included are measures to reduce food-aid fraud, including a system that would prevent people from receiving food stamps in more than one state simultaneously.

Conaway championed the stricter work requirements, and fought to restrict the ability of states to issue waivers to exempt work-eligible people. The House measure also sought to limit circumstances under which families who qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be eligible for food benefits.

The bill increases funding for employment and training programs from $90 million to $103 million.

It also provides funding for rural broadband and for opioid addiction treatment. In addition, it includes funding for farmers markets and to bolster organic gardening programs.

Another contentious piece of the House's original legislation, relaxing restrictions on pesticide use, also didn't make it into the final text.

The House and Senate also clashed over portions of the bill's forestry and conservation sections.

Negotiations were complicated in recent weeks when the White House asked Congress to make changes to the forestry section in response to deadly wildfires in California, giving more authority to the Agriculture and Interior departments to clear forests and other public lands. The final text doesn't significantly increase the agencies' authority.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the bill will help producers "make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster export." But he voiced disappointment over the failure to tighten work requirements.

Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach was flying back home from Washington after Wednesday's vote and couldn't be reached for comment.

But in an interview Tuesday, he expressed gratitude for his farm bill allies in the House.

"All our congressmen are supportive and they're supportive of agriculture and we certainly appreciate them," he said.

In written statements, House members from Arkansas portrayed the vote as a victory for farmers.

"From enhancing insurance and risk management programs for dairy and livestock farmers, to investing in rural development and preventing [food-aid] fraud, this legislation makes sound reforms that support the strength of our food supply, producers, and American families," said Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers.

Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, said the bill "brings much needed security and support to hardworking Arkansas farm families. Farmers benefit from programs funded through this bill including commodity, conservation, and research programs. We take pride in what we produce in our state, and I will continue supporting our farmers and ranchers who produce agricultural products that are second to none."

Rep. Rick Crawford said the legislation includes a "robust crop insurance system," invests in rural America and strengthens the nation's "food security system."

"Food security is a matter of national security, and a nation that cannot feed itself is a nation in trouble. This Farm bill ensures American farmers and ranchers will continue to produce a safe, affordable food and fiber supply for all Americans," the Republican from Jonesboro said.

In a speech on the House floor, Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs, said the legislation "strengthens the farm safety net and provides certainty to our farmers. It does address some forest management issues. It provides millions of dollars in new funding to combat a range of issues facing rural America -- from funding to eradicate feral hogs to [funds to] address the opioid crisis and to expand rural broadband."

Key provisions of the existing law expired Sept. 30.

Information for this article was contributed by Frank E. Lockwood of the Democrat-Gazette and by Juliet Linderman of The Associated Press.

Business on 12/13/2018

Print Headline: Lawmakers approve $400B farm bill


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