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Farm bill includes changes to food stamps, livestock insurance

The farm bill approved by the U.S. House on Thursday would expand livestock insurance to include losses to diseases for which no prevention program exists. (File)

Broadband access would expand while food stamp access could contract under the farm bill that passed the U.S. House Thursday.

By far the most contentious provision in the bill is a new work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The provision would require all able-bodied SNAP users between the ages of 18 and 59 to either have a job or be enrolled in a job-training program for at least 20 hours a week. The measure would not apply to people with children under the age of 6. This provision has drawn intense criticism from food-security advocates, who say this puts too much of a burden on low-income people, especially those who are self-employed. The Democratic National Committee on Thursday singled out this provision in its criticism of the bill, saying in a statement Republicans had voted to "take food off the tables of hungry families." Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, said in a statement the move would provide expanded work opportunities for SNAP users.

The bill also would expand federal livestock insurance. Current programs cover livestock losses due to wild animal attacks or weather. The bill would expand the program to cover losses to diseases for which neither vaccines nor management programs exist.

The farm bill also would dramatically increase the minimum requirements for rural broadband. Right now, the minimum acceptable level for broadband service in a rural area is 4 megabits per second for downloading and 1 megabit per second for uploading. The House farm bill would increase these minimums to 25Mbps and 3Mbps, respectively. It also would require the Secretary of Agriculture to project minimum acceptable service standards up to 30 years into the future. The measure includes language that would create an incentive program to expand broadband in hard-to-reach areas.

Additionally, the bill extends the senior farmers' market nutrition program through 2023. Under the program, seniors who purchase food from a farmers' market don't have to pay state or local sales tax.

The bill still has to go through the Senate. The Senate has its own farm bill which does not include a SNAP work requirement.

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