The farm bill puts money into congressional districts in many ways, but the two largest are farm payments and SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp program). In the Upper Midwest, some counties that historically receive above-average farm payments (green counties in left-hand map) have below-average rate of SNAP usage (green counties on right-hand map). The Mississippi Delta region has both above-average farm payments (green counties on left) and above-average SNAP usage (red counties on right). (Sources -- LEFT: Marketwatch from FOIA requests. RIGHT: Daily Yonder/USDA Economic Research Service)

The average member of Congress who sits on the farm-bill conference committee has an estimated 36,000 constituents enrolled in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, a Daily Yonder analysis of congressional district data shows. 

In 2016, those SNAP enrollees pulled an average of $142 million in assistance from the program into each of the 48 congressional districts represented on the committee. 

Each of those congressional districts also had an average of 4,900 farmers who participated in the government-subsidized crop insurance program. The program provided each district with an average of $55 million in benefits. 

The Daily Yonder calculated total SNAP payments in congressional district by multiplying the average per person SNAP benefit by the state-average household size. The numbers are estimates and would be skewed by any differences between the average household size of a SNAP recipient household and the average household size of the general population. (A note on sources is at the bottom of this story.) 

The district that received the most support from SNAP, according to the estimate, is the California 16th (Democrat Jim Costa). The second ranked district is the Louisiana 5th (Republican Ralph Abraham). 

Six of the top 10 districts for SNAP payments are held by Democrats. 

The districts that garnered the most support from farm subsidies were in the agricultural Midwest, not surprisingly. Republican Kevin Cramer’s district (which covers the whole state of North Dakota) received $382 million in farm payments paid to approximately 25,000 farmers. Republican Roger Marshall’s district (Kansas 1st) was the next highest recipient of farm aid, with $307 million for a total of 24,000 farmers.  

Eight of the top-10 districts receiving farm payments are held by Republicans. 

While the legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture is commonly known as the farm bill, the bill spends $3 on nutrition programs for every dollar it spends in helping farmers. That ratio is smaller than the national rate for the congressional members of the conference committee: Estimated SNAP payments for the period were $6.7 billion to residents’ of the members’ districts while total farm payments came to $2.9 billion – a ratio of approximately 2.3 to 1. 

Both the Senate the House have passed versions of the farm bill. The legislation now rests in the hands of a conference committee composed of 47 Representatives (29 Republicans and 18 Democrats) and nine Senators (five Republican and four Democrats). 

While the differences between the House and Senate bills are numerous, one of the key sticking points is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the “food stamp” program. The House version of the bill calls for stiffening the work requirements for SNAP recipients, while the Senate bill calls for more oversight but does not expand the work requirement. 

Roughly three-quarters of the households receiving SNAP benefits in committee members’ districts already have at least one person working.  

In the House, conference committee members represent an aggregate of 1.7 million SNAP households with $6.7 billion in economic benefits. The conferees also represent almost 300,000 farms that receive government payments totaling $2.6 billion. The nine Senate conferees represent 3.9 million SNAP households with $7.25 billion in benefits, and 273,000 farmers who received $2.8 billion in payments.  

Some rural districts, particularly those with high volumes of row-crop production, had high levels of government payments to farmers. Many other predominantly rural districts had very low levels of government payments to farmers, documenting the somewhat limited geographic reach of farm support payments as economic stimulus. In non-farm dependent communities, SNAP benefits dwarf government payments to farmers and also reach a significantly higher number of households.  

The House version of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) passed June 21 along partisan lines after it was initially defeated in May. The House vote was extremely close, narrowly passing the second round in a 213-211 vote. All Democrats opposed the House bill, primarily because of cuts and work requirements for participants in nutrition programs.  

The Senate, a week later, passed their version of the replacement bill with a strong bipartisan 85-11 vote. The Senate bill maintains the structure of current farm bill for the most part, while also providing mandatory funding for many programs canceled by the House bill.   

The conference committee is expected to meet formally in the next few weeks as House members return to formal floor activities.   

Data sources: Percent of households using SNAP and number of households using SNAP comes from the USDA Food and Nutrition Services report, “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2015,” available at Total estimated SNAP spending was calculated using average household size by state multiplied by the average per-person benefit by state. The number will be affected by anomalies in household size or per-person expenditures. Farm data is taken from Congressional district profiles in the 2012 Agriculture Census, the most recent data available on a districtwide basis. 

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