By Laura Olsen
A new farm bill is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk, with support from most of Pennsylvania’s U.S. House delegation and one of its two U.S. senators.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey voted against the twice-a-decade legislation, saying it didn’t address his concerns over the government’s sugar program or include tougher work requirements for food-stamp recipients.
The work requirements were part of an earlier House Republican proposal that would have expanded rules requiring able-bodied adults under age 50 and without dependent children to work 20 hours a week or participate in job training to receive aid. Instead, the GOP called for including adults up to age 59, even if they have dependent children older than 6.
“I don’t understand why that should even be controversial,” Toomey said in a radio interview Wednesday morning on WAEB-AM.
Toomey has been a critic of the sugar subsidy program, saying it causes American consumers to pay twice as much as the rest of the world for sugar while favoring the profits of sugar producers.
The GOP pIan also would make it tougher for states to seek exemptions to those rules for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which has 1.9 million recipients in Pennsylvania and 42 million nationwide.
Democrats said that would have hurt people who rely on the program. U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, one of two Pennsylvanians on the House Agriculture panel involved in crafting the bill, called the work requirement proposal “counterproductive.”
“It’s a hunger program,” Evans said Wednesday, adding that the final version without the additional requirements drew wide support. “The vote result should speak for itself.”
Toomey also cited concerns with the food stamp program in opposing the last farm bill in 2014, when he argued that further reductions should have been made to the cost of that program.
The farm bill passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday. Republican Reps. Scott Perry and Keith Rothfus, both members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, voted against it. U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Luzerne County, did not vote.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who serves on the Senate agriculture committee, supported the measure.
Casey noted the final measure included sections he worked on to increase money for research on organic agriculture, improve water quality by preventing agriculture runoff, and encourage farmers to donate their products directly to food banks.