Could food stamps and the farm bill go their separate ways?
Could food stamps be peeled out of the farm bill? Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ncreedplayer/ Some rights reserved.
The farm bill never used to be this controversial. For decades, the drill went like this. Conservatives representing rural districts wanted subsidies for agriculture; liberals representing urban districts wanted money for food stamps for cities' impoverish residents. They each held their nose about the others' interests and voted for the farm bill.
In fact, this remains the road map for passage of this new farm bill. As Congressman Bill Owens, a rather conservative Democrat, told me the other day, "this is a carefully constructed and delicate compromise".
Well, there are growing voices on the right that want to bust up that compromise. The Tea Party generation of small-government conservatives have begun calling the legislation the "food stamp and farm bill", pointing out that most of the farm bill – funding-wise – is food stamps. And they're right – about 80%, to be exact.
While the Senate version of the farm bill cuts $400 million a year from the food stamp program, called SNAP, (New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wanted to restore those cuts and replace them with cuts to the crop insurance program), the House version makes much deeper $2 billion a year cuts.
The conservative Heritage Foundation is leading a movement to strip out food stamps from the farm bill altogether, claiming that the food stamp program is "riddled with fraud and abuse":
The reason food stamp policy has not been successfully reformed is because food stamps are tied to the farm bill and have been for years. Farm policy has not been properly reformed for that same reason. For too long, food stamps have helped the farm bill get passed, and politicians are well aware and ready and willing to use this to their advantage.
Meanwhile on the left, Food and Water Watch director Winonah Hauter argues the cuts to food stamps disproportionately hurt low-income and minority families while the agriculture programs in the farm bill favor the rich and powerful in the food industry.
The lack of deliberation is especially disheartening in the face of mega-mergers like the proposed takeover of Smithfield Foods by China’s largest meat company and the pending Cargill-ConAgra flourmill merger. It is past time for the Congress to stand up to the corporate consolidation that threatens to sweep away the last vestiges of competition in America’s food system.
Maybe it would be better to consider the criticisms of both of these issues – hunger in America policy and agricultural support policy – on their own merits. Do you think both programs would be better served apart? Or is the alliance necessary to get city and country politicians to abide by each others' interests?
One other random farm bill note that's relevant to New York agriculture. Senator Chuck Schumer's "Maple Tap Act", which would help increase the state's maple syrup production, is included in the Senate version of the farm bill.
Tags: agriculture, farm bill, food, food stamps, hunger, politics, poverty, washington