With the August recess for Congress beginning this Friday, the House will run out of time to produce legislation reforming nutrition programs – namely food stamps — in the farm bill. This is a setback for those seeking a quick revival of the stalled 2013 Farm Bill reauthorization.
As citizens, we can only go on the word of House leadership who say that conversations over the food stamp program would continue over the recess that runs through Labor Day weekend in early September. However, the month-long delay on floor action makes it highly unlikely that the Farm Bill can be passed by the time current programs expire on Sept. 30. I’m talking about all the programs: commodity, conservation, rural development, renewable energy and others as well as nutrition.
For farm families and others in rural communities, they might well ask why nutrition programs really need to be part of the farm bill. Indeed, I addressed this in our previous blog (7/17), but that was mainly to explain the politics of the debate and what is politically possible or feasible to resolve the stand-off.
In this posting, I will try to make the case that farm families, and rural communities in general, should support nutrition programs by the federal government. It’s this latter part – by the federal government – that seems to be the crux of the problem. It’s not that anyone wants families, particularly children or the elderly, to go hungry in this country of ours. It’s a question of who or how we help those in need; a federal entitlement program does not sit well for some Conservatives.
To put it another way, this is a philosophical question. This puts the discussion into a different realm than political expediency, and that makes it much more of a challenge to find common ground to resolve the stand-off within the Farm Bill.
Interestingly, Big Ag and farm commodity groups are basically okay with nutrition programs in the Farm Bill. No doubt their position is for economic and political reasons: providing low-income individuals and families with “food stamps” (now EBT cards) to buy basic foods in grocery stores can only be good for those who sell the food, not to mention those who produce it.
But the real question here is why government nutrition assistance programs exist at all? Shouldn’t the people who have children be the ones to feed and take care of their children? Why have the federal government involved? Aren’t there local and community food banks which can meet the need?
The benefit of federal food stamps (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) relieves pressure on overwhelmed parishes, charities, food banks, pantries and other emergency food providers across the country who could not begin to meet the need for food assistance if SNAP eligibility or benefits were reduced.
As bishops and dioceses have learned, local churches and charities cannot do it alone: If you combine all federal and private resources for food assistance in the U.S., only 4% or so is funded privately. Download this one-page backgrounder to learn more about SNAP and how the church favors it.
We must resist the temptation of believing those who say that the food stamp program is widely abused or taken advantage of by those unjustly claim benefits.
Catholic Rural Life stands in solidarity with anti-hunger and anti-poverty groups who truly know what the need is for food assistance in our states and home towns. We believe farm families – who we know are hard-working, self-reliant and keenly responsible for their individual actions and behavior – should support government assistance when low-income families cannot meet their basic food needs.
We ask that family farmers join with Catholic groups and many others, and ask their Representative to support a Farm Bill with adequately funded Nutrition programs.