Grassley would support increase in SNAP benefits |

Grassley would support increase in SNAP benefits

-The Hagstrom Report

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said today that he would support a short-term increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits as part of the next coronavirus economic aid bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Monday listed an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the items they want in the coronavirus bill. Pelosi and Schumer did not go into details, but anti-hunger groups have asked for a 15% increase, an increase in the minimum benefits from $16 to $30, and a provision to stop the USDA from moving ahead with any rules that would make it harder for people to access SNAP benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are still pushing Democrats to vote for a bill that would only provide more money for the Small Business Administration, but Pelosi has said that bill would not pass either chamber.

In response to a question from The Hagstrom Report, Grassley told rural reporters in a telephone news conference that he would support an increase “if it is on a temporary basis” to deal with the pandemic, but not a change in permanent law.

Usually, crisis measures are done for a 90-day period, Grassley said.

He added that when Congress negotiated the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, members knew that if the country is not “back in operation” in three months, “we would have to do it again.”

He said that Congress had put in $25 billion for agriculture with “eyes wide open” that more aid might be needed later. Grassley said the next aid package might be “more of the same with the exception of something we forgot.” He noted that a nonprofit group in Sioux City, Iowa, had told him they sponsor banquets in the summer but do not see any way to get help through the programs passed in the CARES Act.

Asked about other measures that might go in the next coronavirus package, Grassley said he was interested in including infrastructure and a bipartisan bill he has written with Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to control prescription drug pricing.

He added that “we Republicans have to be careful about what we put in” the bill because Democrats may want to add measures such as federalizing election laws.

Grassley noted that meat plant closures amount to “major disruptions in the food supply chain.” But he indicated there is a limit to what the government can do because “the federal government doesn’t set up processing plants and hire people to run it, like setting up hospitals.”

Grassley said he doesn’t know how much excess capacity there is at other plants and that he doesn’t know “what you do with a 260-pound hog that is ready for slaughter” if the plants are closed. He added that he has not thought about these issues and that most of the expertise is within the industry.

Grassley said he understands that developing a program for livestock producers may take some time but that for Iowa beef producers “it is important they make a quick decision.”

Dealing with the closures is “very important and ought to be a high priority, but at the same time we have to be sure this isn’t giving cover to market manipulation and illegal activity by meat packing executives.” Grassley said he was pleased that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he would extend an investigation into the prices after the fire in Holcomb, Kan., last year to include the recent fall in the cattle markets while consumer prices were high.

“We can’t have meat packing margins skyrocket every time there is a market disruption,” Grassley said. “The consumer is not helped when the price of products go to down to the farmer.”

Grassley noted that he has sponsored a bill limiting the amount of packer-owned livestock that can be slaughtered in a single day. There needs to be more of a market “for the independent producers,” he said. Grassley added that he has not tried hard to get that bill passed in recent years because farm groups did not give it enough support, but he said that attitude seems to be changing.

Grassley said he has had a conversation with Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer about the schedule for implementing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement on trade. He said Lighthizer has more of an understanding of the difficulties in the auto industry than he expected and that Lighthizer is trying to accommodate those concerns.

Lighthizer has said he wants to implement the agreement by July 1, but the auto industry has said it is not ready for that because new regulations have not been written and auto plants are shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.