Farm Bill 2013: Food Stamps Are Getting Thrown Under the Bus

Looking at the just-passed House draft of a farm bill for 2013 alongside its Senate counterpart, there can be only one conclusion. The current proposals for a new farm bill are a mess.

Both proposals fall prey to similar problems to different degrees. They burden the poor in order to line the pockets of the wealthy. They set up perverse incentives. In short, they are an exercise in political expediency at the cost of sound policy.

There hasn't been a proper farm bill submitted since 2008. The last substitute for a farm bill was a nine-month extension of the 2008 bill. In light of that, you'd think that I’d be all for the passage of the current farm bill winding through the House, but no.

I've done a lot of work on hunger issues in the past, and it's difficult to support a bill that will force families who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, sometimes referred to as food stamps) to scrape by on $90 per month (about $3 per day or $1 per meal) for food, as the Senate version, the more lenient proposal, does. That pales in comparison to the House version, which cuts food stamp funding by five times as much as the Senate bill and would kick 2 million people, about 4% of the entire program's enrollment, off the rolls.

Note that these people would not be kicked off because they were able to make enough money to feed their families. They would be kicked off simply because enough representatives would rather spend money on increased protections for farmers, many of whom have more than enough money to feed their families.

In an attempt to address the absurdity that is our crop subsidies to wealthy agribusinesses, Congress has tried to switch over from direct payments to a heavily subsidized (to the tune of over half the cost of the premium) crop insurance system. The Chicago Tribune has argued that the crop insurance program "encourage[s] farmers to obtain so much coverage that they take risks no prudent operator would take. They plant on unsuitable land, knowing that if a crop fails, they can make a claim." To reiterate, many of these farmers are already wealthy. According to U.S. News and World Report, "Farm debt-to-asset ratios are at record lows, prices for major crops are at or close to record highs, and family farms almost never fail (annually, only one in every 200 farms closes its doors because of financial problems)."

David Beckman, the president of Bread for the World, a Christian grassroots organization working to end worldwide hunger, has said of the situation, "Budgeting is about choices, priorities and values … What does it say that our elected leaders are willing to slash the main program that fights hunger in this country, but refrain from cutting subsidies to agribusiness?"

I'll answer him. We already have already seen terrible indifference to poverty from Congress and the media (as the Daily Show skewered quite brilliantly a few months ago). Sadly, the proposed bills in both congressional chambers, but especially the House, continue that trend.

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Lauren Gilbert

Lauren was born in Hartford, Connecticut and has since lived in many places in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. She has taken up many research interests, including economic, environmental and education policy, Asian politics, and legislative reform.

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