WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The conference committee charged with reconciling differences between Senate and House farm bills has been scheduled to meet Sept. 5. The House of Representatives has been in recess since the beginning of August and won’t reconvene until after Labor Day. Meanwhile, staffs of the Senate and House agriculture committees have been at work attempting to find compromises that may pave the way for crafting a farm bill acceptable to the House, the Senate and U.S. President Donald Trump.  The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.   

The conference committee will include 9 senators and 47 members of the House. Senate panelists will include 5 Republicans led by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, and 4 Democrats led by Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the ranking member. The 29 Republican House panelists will be led by Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, the chairman of the House agriculture committee, and the 18 Democratic House panelists will be led by Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking member.

It was expected differences over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be the most difficult to reconcile. The House farm bill, passed on a party-line vote, contained more expansive work requirements than those currently in effect under the 2014 farm bill. The changes would expand the population of SNAP benefit recipients subject to a 20-hour-per-week work and/or job training requirement to include able bodied adults from 18 to 59 years (49 years of age is currently the upper limit) and to parents with children over the age of six. This requirement, along with other more stringent eligibility requirements, would render about 2 million people ineligible to receive SNAP benefits.

The Senate farm bill, which received the largest bipartisan vote ever for a farm bill, contained no significant changes to SNAP.

During the recess, Peterson told an audience in Redwood County, Minnesota, U.S., that the debate over the nutrition title will make or break the conference process because the House bill includes SNAP provisions he and other Democrats oppose.

“The biggest stumbling block if we don’t get a bill is because of food stamps,” he said. “The Senate is not going to do what the House wants, and I told Conaway that two months ago.”

Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who will be one of the Democratic conferees, said during a discussion at Hampshire College Farm, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S., that the House farm bill failed farmers and their families.

“This conference will provide an opportunity to return to the grand bipartisan tradition of robust fam bills,” McGovern said. “Our diverse and dynamic House Democratic conferees will bring the strength of their values and wide-ranging experience to the work of hammering out a bipartisan farm bill than honors our responsibility to the men and women of agriculture and hungry families.”

While not selected as a conferee, Representative Susan Brooks of Indiana, a Republican, speaking at the inaugural Stewardship Tech in the Field event on the Mike Shuter farm in Madison County, Indiana, U.S., agreed that the divide between the House and Senate bills on SNAP was wide and put forward the case for the House bill.

“We require in the House version, and it’s not in the Senate version, a 20-hour work or training requirement for those able-bodied adults between 18 and 59 years of age who don’t have dependents under the age of six that they care for,” she said. “We know we have a workforce shortage in the country with such low unemployment. We believe in the dignity of work and trying to get people back in the workforce. This is not to push people out of the SNAP program. It is trying to get them back in the workforce.”