Washington Watch: Different visions for a 2024 Farm Bill


Leaders of the Senate and House committees overseeing agriculture issues last week released competing visions for the 2024 reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is the governing legislation for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, including nutrition programs, agriculture research programs and rural development initiatives. Last reauthorized in 2018, the current Farm Bill – the Agriculture Improvement Act – was set to expire in 2023 but received a one-year extension. Lawmakers are now working to deliver a 2024 Farm Bill before the end of the 118th Congress.

While typically considered a “must-pass” piece of legislation, disagreements between Democrats and Republicans around overall spending levels and the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could hinder progress and even threaten enactment.

Last Wednesday, Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, introduced the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act. The marker bill details Senate Democrats’ priorities for a 2024 Farm Bill. The same day, House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) released a high-level “framework” representing House Republicans’ priorities.

What’s important for community colleges

The reauthorization of the Farm Bill presents an important opportunity for community colleges. Ahead of the Farm Bill’s reauthorization, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) identified three key priorities: providing direct assistance for community college agriculture programs, strengthening SNAP employment and training activities, and encouraging participation in SNAP for eligible community college students.  

First, community colleges support the Community College Agriculture Advancement Act. The bill, introduced in both the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, provides an annual authorization of $20 million. It would cover new capacity-building grants to enhance agriculture programs at community colleges and to encourage collaboration involving community and technical colleges, land-grant universities and other higher education institutions. The bill is included in full in the Senate Democrats’ Farm Bill proposal, but it is not mentioned in the House Republicans’ outline.

Second, community colleges support the SNAP E&T Enhancements Act, which would create an income disregard for SNAP participants in Employment and Training (E&T) subsidized work-based learning programs, many of which are offered by community colleges. This change will support program completion by preventing students from losing their SNAP access mid-program.

Community colleges also support increasing the federal grant funds provided to states to launch and scale E&T programs. The earnings disregard for SNAP E&T participants in work-based learning programs is included in the Senate Democrats’ proposal, and the materials made available leave it unclear if it is included in the House Republicans’ framework.

Simplifying SNAP

Finally, AACC supports simplifying SNAP eligibility to encourage uptake for community college students experiencing food insecurity. The current rules governing student eligibility for nutrition assistance are complicated and burdensome. As a result, many eligible, food-insecure students do not take advantage of benefits to which they are, in theory, entitled.

AACC is asking authorizers to simplify SNAP access for college students and reexamine the complicated list of “student exemptions,” with an eye towards reducing complexity and increasing program participation.

The SNAP program will be the most contentious issue in the bipartisan negotiations to reauthorize the Farm Bill. As a result, it is unlikely that horse-trading policymakers will expand SNAP eligibility in ways that would increase the cost of the program, which darkens the prospect for the reforms AACC is seeking.

However, the Senate Democrats’ proposal included provisions that facilitate greater SNAP access for former foster youth in higher education and encourage colleges and universities to connect students with nutrition assistance programs. The House Republicans’ nutrition outline did not mention college students.

What’s next

Thompson has indicated that he will bring his proposal before the House committee for a vote on May 23, with bill text and issue papers expected to be distributed before then. So far, the House Republican framework has not generated any Democratic support.

AACC will continue to monitor progress around the 2024 Farm Bill and to raise community college priorities with policymakers in both chambers.

About the Author

Kathryn Gimborys
Kathryn Gimborys is a government relations manager at the American Association of Community Colleges.
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