Farm Bill Passage Keeps School Lunches on the Table

A tractor plows a field for planting

By scuttling plan to change food stamp rules, free and reduced-price lunches are unaffected.

School foodservice directors are breathing a sigh of relief after President Donald Trump signed the $867 billion 2018 Farm Bill in late December. Among the most hotly debated parts of the legislation was food-stamp eligibility, which would have taken a big toll on the free and reduced-price lunch program.

After the previous Farm Bill expired at the end of September, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., scrambled to make changes to a 1,000-page bill covering most policies related to U.S. agriculture. Typically renewed every five years, the Farm Bill spells out management of everything from farm subsidies to crop insurance and conservation research to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—also known as food stamps.

The U.S. House and Senate earlier in 2018 passed differing versions of the Farm Bill. The House plan sought to change eligibility rules, which would affect people in a number of states who automatically receive SNAP benefits based on income levels. The House proposal called for stringent work requirements for SNAP recipients. The children of people who failed to qualify could have been removed from automatic school meal certification, a move that would have affected about 265,000 students who receive free and reduced-price lunches. The Senate version of the Farm Bill did not change eligibility rules.

Just before the end of the legislative year, the House passed a version of the bill without SNAP restrictions by a 369-47 vote. The bill then cleared the Senate 83-13 and was signed into law by the president on Dec. 19.