Colorado farm wheat mountains

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 farm bill Thursday, praising those who got the bill to his desk before Congress adjourned for the holidays.

But what he and other Republicans couldn't get in the farm bill -- modifications to work requirements for people who get food stamps -- he's now attempting to get through rulemaking. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced rules that will require those on SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name of the food-stamp program -- to spend more time working in order to gain benefits.

Trump entered the signing room Thursday to a rendition of the theme song from the 1960s  TV series "Green Acres," a performance he said he sang during an Emmy broadcast in 2006.

He called the farm bill a tremendous victory for the American farmer and rancher, although he used the signing ceremony to talk at length about border security and said little about the bill he was signing.

The farm bill, formally known the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, is an $867 billion, five-year bill that covers agricultural programs such as farm subsidies, crop insurance and the SNAP program.

It also, for the first time in history, legalizes industrial hemp, seen as a boon for the growing hemp industry in Colorado.

“As a fifth-generation Coloradan from a small town on the Eastern Plains where agriculture is a way of life, I know how important it is that Congress has reached a bipartisan agreement on the Farm Bill,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

“As a result of low commodity prices, our agriculture community has been struggling for the past few years and this has had a profound impact on my own community and rural communities across the state and country," Gardner said. "The Farm Bill provides long-term certainty to farmers and ranchers throughout Colorado and even includes provisions that will specifically help Colorado farmers and ranchers."

Gardner and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Michael Bennet, won approval of several provisions in the bill, including an amendment "to strengthen drought and water conservation policy that will provide additional resources for Colorado producers having to deal with drought," another to combat diseases affecting hops. Gardner also worked on an amendment to authorize research on technology for dryland farming, as well as working on the legalization of hemp.

At the time the compromise won approval from the Senate, Bennet said the "farmers and ranchers of Colorado wrote enormous parts of this legislation, and what passed today is a reflection of their priorities. In the Senate Agriculture Committee, we don’t have partisan differences—we have regional differences that we resolve. That’s because farmers and ranchers don’t have the luxury of pretending politics is the only thing that matters. They’re focused on handing the next generation more opportunity. That’s what this bill does."

Shawn Hauser, chair of the Hemp and Cannabinoids Practice Group at the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg, said Colorado "has been leading the way on hemp policy, and it is uniquely positioned to remain a national leader in the U.S. hemp industry. Hemp has the potential to be a major new crop, making it a promising new source of jobs and revenue, especially for rural communities."

Hauser added: "The hemp provisions of this year's farm bill are finally righting a wrong that has prevented our country from competing in the global hemp market for decades. Now that President Trump has signed the legislation into law, it’s time to buckle down and get to work with rule-making. The USDA and state governments should move quickly to develop sensible regulations that will support a robust hemp marketplace while ensuring consumer products meet clear quality and safety standards. Hemp has the potential to be a major new crop, making it a promising new source of jobs and revenue, especially for rural communities.”

Colorado voters legalized hemp through Amendment 64, although it is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Now that it has been legalized by Congress and through the president's signature, hemp producers will be eligible for crop insurance, for example, as well as loosen restrictions on hemp crops being irrigated with water from federally-funded water structures, including most reservoirs. It also might end banking problems for hemp farmers.

In 2016, Colorado had 260 hemp growers with more than 6,000 acres in production. Today, hemp is being grown in at least 51 out of Colorado's 64 counties with 31,000 acres in production, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

The farm bill lacked one major demand by the administration and its Republican allies: more work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving SNAP benefits.

In an essay Thursday published by USA Today, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Trump "has directed me ... to propose regulatory reforms to ensure that those who are able to work do so in exchange for their benefits. This restores the dignity of work to a sizeable [sic] segment of our population, while it is also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program."

The proposed rules would eliminate waivers used in the past when unemployment was at 10 percent or higher. The national unemployment rate stood at 3.7 percent in November.

Currently, able-bodied adults without dependents can receive SNAP for three months in a three-year period unless the recipient is working at least 80 hours per month or participating in a work-training program. However, the USDA has waived this time limit in the past in states with high unemployment or "lack of sufficient jobs."

Given the nation's low unemployment rate, those waivers are no longer necessary except in areas "in which jobs are unavailable," the department said.

Politico reported earlier this month the rules would appeal to conservative lawmakers who were frustrated that they were unable to push those changes through in the compromise version of the farm bill.

That's definitely true in Colorado. Three House Republicans -- outgoing U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora and Reps. Ken Buck of Greeley and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs -- voted against the farm bill because it did not make those SNAP changes.

The rulemaking sets off a 60-day comment period before it goes into effect.

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