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Fight Over Farm Bill Follows Jim Jordan Home To Ohio

Keitha Simpson at the Marysville Food Pantry.
Nick Evans
Keitha Simpson at the Marysville Food Pantry.

Volunteers box up food for the morning rush at the Marysville Food Pantry while Keitha Simpson stands in an aisle lined with cases of food.

“You name it—any kind of non-perishable you would want,” she says. “Canned vegetables, fruits, pastas, pasta sauce.”

Visitors can only come to the food pantry once a month, and even though volunteers pack boxes to feed them longer than the legally-required three days, that help can only go so far. Simpson says the pantry is meant to pick up when federal food assistance falls short.

“Most of our families are what we consider the working poor—they just need that help to stretch the dollars," Simpson says.

Once known as food stamps, federal food aid is now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and is part of legislation known as the Farm Bill. The five-year measure is built on a coalition of urban representatives pushing for food aid and rural lawmakers keen on protecting farm subsidies.

But compromise is teetering as Congress moves to the right.

The Farm Bill is currently stalled in the House because Democrats oppose deep cuts to SNAP and tougher work requirements for recipients. Meanwhile, it's drawn more criticism from far-right Republicans like Rep. Jim Jordan, who represents Ohio's 4th Congressional District.

Jordan and fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus refuse to support the Farm Bill unless House leaders take up a hardline immigration bill. In a recent interview on Fox News, Jordan told the host, “I like the welfare reform in the farm bill—the food stamp reform—I think it’s needed, the work requirements that are there, so I like that. But I also want to get immigration right.”

Jordan's maneuvering led to House lawmakers voting the Farm Bill down on Friday.

Marcia Haudenscheild outside the food pantry.
Credit Nick Evans
Marcia Haudenscheild outside the food pantry.

Marcia Haudenscheild relies on SNAP to help raise her granddaughter. Standing outside the Marysville food pantry, she says she was not happy with her Congressman’s stance.

“You know, people need it,” Haudenscheild says. “So why—and maybe I shouldn’t say this, but there’s people that’s coming here that just get all these hands out and then people that’s been here and the vets and stuff are the ones getting screwed.”

But Haudenscheild, who is disabled, is fine with stiffer work requirements, which would exempt recipients with disabilities. She just thinks there are better places to make cuts.

Ryan Lee.
Credit Nick Evans
Ryan Lee.

Just north of Marysville, Ryan Lee is trying to get his last few acres planted.

“We’ve got beans that are just cracking the ground here,” he says, showing off one field planted with soybeans.

Seven generations of Lee's family have farmed this land, going back about 150 years. Ahead of Friday’s vote, he explained the subsidies he receives aren’t handouts.

“I’m not sure the SNAP program should be that much different,” he says. “If we have to meet requirements to receive that kind of aid, then you know perhaps as part of a level and fair playing field everybody should.”

Lee doesn’t always agree with Jordan, but says he respects his willingness to vote his principles. Lee’s a little frustrated, but he’s not panicking yet.

Jeff Robinson is another farmer nearby with deep roots in the area, and like Lee, he’s frustrated with the gridlock.

Jeff Robinson on his farm.
Credit Nick Evans
Jeff Robinson on his farm.

“Well, I hate to hear that," Robinson says. "I guess it seems like that they take one step forward and three steps back.”

Still, Robinson blames Congress for the Farm Bill's failure, rather than Jordan in particular. He says lawmakers should take on one issue at a time—decoupling food assistance from farm subsidies—and he’s annoyed the measure is being held up by a fight over immigration.  

“If they’re using the farm bill for leverage for something else, I don’t think that’s correct either,” Robinson says. “I think they should keep the Farm Bill the Farm Bill and whatever other issues they have let that be another issue.”

The Senate has its own version of the Farm Bill, with Democrats getting more sway, and the House may try again on its more conservative proposal.

The current program expires in September, with the midterm elections happening just two months after. Jordan faces a Democratic challenger in Janet Garrett, who he's beaten twice before. In 2016, he won reelection in the 4th District by a margin of 36 percent.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.