Farm bill’s defeat — A lost opportunity for food security and farms

More than 100 amendments were introduced to the farm bill that was defeated this month in the U.S. House of Representatives.

One amendment would have reduced annual funding for the federal food stamp program — known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — by $2 billion a year, and removed up to 2 million unemployed, low-wage and poor people who use their SNAP/EBT card to buy food and eligible non-food items. Another amendment would have allowed states to require food stamp applicants to submit to drug testing as part of the SNAP application process.

The Senate version of a farm bill had passed two weeks earlier, and it also reduced funding for the food stamp program by $400 million annually. The bill would have also instituted reforms in both SNAP and the farm industry. Direct payments to farmers would be eliminated for crops they do not actually grow, and participating SNAP retailers would be required to stock more fruits and vegetables to be available to SNAP recipients. More grants and loans to both urban and rural “food deserts” would become available, to expand offerings of healthful food.

The one amendment that finally killed the bill (the House version) would have added a work requirement that food stamp recipients have to be looking for work or working In order to receive SNAP benefits.

In this economy?

At this point, neither bill will pass, and a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm bill (the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act) —  will expire in September. At stake are the 422,064 Connecticut households that feed their families with an average SNAP/Food Stamp monthly benefit of about $144 a month.

It’s a good time to consider proposals on how to link food and farm policy to food stamps, and encourage economic development around both. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that each SNAP dollar that is spent generates nearly twice that in local economic activity. This is revenue to local food stores and has a “multiplier effect” that supports small businesses and, potentially, more local farms.

A listing of 19 farmers’ markets and farm stands on the Connecticut Department of Social Services that accept SNAP shows that markets are in both urban and affluent towns across the state, from Bridgeport to Norfolk to Chaplin. In some markets, SNAP benefits are doubled for the purchase of fruits and vegetables and in others, like the New Haven Fair Market Farmers Market, farm fresh produce, along with nutritional information, is delivered to work sites, community programs and schools.

New thinking on the agriculture sector of the U.S. economy is tying in changes in how the U.S. supports its farms and farm programs to help American farmers to sell locally, train and access capital for next generation farmers, and community-supported agriculture programs. In this discussion, adequate funding for the SNAP program for seniors, low-income households and children who cannot always afford to eat a decent meal is a given.

The food stamp program was first tied to the farm bill during the Great Depression, when “farmers had surplus food crops and many Americans did not have enough to eat.” Critics of SNAP, who voiced their objections in the farm bill’s defeat, should think more about how these food dollars could stimulate economic activity, instead of their mean-spirited demand that food stamps recipients have to “work” for their food.

 

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