Does Food Assistance belong in the Farm Bill? - Catholic Rural Life

Does Food Assistance belong in the Farm Bill?

Robert Gronski • July 17, 2013


The big news this past week regarding farm and food policies in our country was that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill without a Nutrition title.

The past few farm bills had added new titles (or sections) to this comprehensive piece of legislation, so it was newsworthy when the House removed a title – and stunning that it was the largest part of the Farm Bill, which are Nutrition programs mainly in the form of food stamps (now referred to as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

[Click here to learn about the History of SNAP]

Now, when it is said that Nutrition programs are the largest part of the Farm Bill, it means a vast majority of funding for the bill goes to providing food stamps for eligible Americans in need. So as I like to tell people, it’s a little bit of money going to a lot of low-income families every month — tens of millions of Americans in our current economy.

Compare this to Commodity programs in the Farm Bill: that’s mainly a lot of money going to a few large farm operations. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for these large farm businesses (not to mention additional subsidies to purchase Crop Insurance). So on a person-to-person (or family-to-family) comparison, farm commodity programs are immensely larger than food assistance programs.

House splits on partisan basis

Members of the House of Representatives split in partisan fervor in whose interests they seem to be serving. I realize I am casting the Republican Party (or certainly extreme parts of it) in a poor light by saying that, but I am dumfounded by their stance and their logic. I welcome responses to why I should think otherwise!

Granted, food assistance programs at the federal level should be considered according to their own merits. But politics don’t quite work that way. When food stamps were instituted back in the 1960s, the political strategy was to tie them into the Farm Bill so that urban elected officials would also go along with farm programs and spending levels. Both rural and urban constituencies would get what they needed, as long as the majority of politicians voted for the omnibus, or comprehensive, farm and food bill.

So the House now has a Farm Bill without a Nutrition title. What is House leadership going to do with that? So far, they haven’t forwarded it to the Senate so that a conference committee can begin on reconciling the two bills. If the House is planning to draft a separate bill on food assistance programs and some how attach that to their farm-only bill, then why not just keep it together to begin with?

If they think the Senate will similarly drop the Nutrition title from the Farm Bill, then they’re living in a political world that doesn’t exist. Even if that were to happen, the Administration has already made it clear that the President will not sign such a bill.

Cathlic voices for a full and fair Farm Bill

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and St. Vincent DePaul Society, all call on Congress to protect the least among us. Fundamental to this is providing food assistance to low-income families. Given that the Farm Bill has been the federal legislation to do that for five decades, then why alter that now? We’re already a year behind in reauthorizing a new Farm Bill.

Catholic Rural Life joins with these Catholic voices, as well as many other faith groups, anti-hunger groups, and farm & food advocates, to call for a full and fair Farm Bill now. There are not many legislative days left in Congress before the current farm bill expires on September 30. Something must be resolved before Congress goes on their month-long August recess.

Please join us by calling on Congress to complete of a full and intact Farm Bill in 2013. This legislation is essential to the food, farm and rural community health of our recovering national economy. As Congress stumbles along on this important legislation, we urge House members to work their way out of partisan politics and seek the common good of the nation and the health and livelihood of all citizens.

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