A “Farm Bill” that Denies Food to the Poor

Pestkapelle Stiefenhofen, Glasbild rechts oben, Hunger und Brotvermehrung

(By Sr. Maria Ludgera Haberstroh (Kloster Reute bei Bad Waldsee)  Photographer: Horst F. Freudenberger (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Because farms grow food, and some Americans need help purchasing food, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), more commonly known as “food stamps”, and farms have been legislatively linked for some time now. But this is a bill as written that grows farms and hunger.

The “farm bill” or perhaps, more accurately, the “factory farm bill” is a huge and complicated document, which the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition does a good job breaking down and explaining. There seems to be some good stuff in the bill for smaller, sustainable farms, but much “factory farm” support as well, as the NSAC states:

“The bill cuts funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) just slightly, but increases the program’s payment limitation by 150 percent to $450,000, a move made at the behest of the CAFO industrial dairy and livestock sector that will result in less EQIP funding for all other farmers. Meanwhile, the bill maintains a separate and blatantly discriminatory payment limit of $80,000 for producers participating in the EQIP Organic Initiative.”

Though there had been bipartisan talk of farm “subsidy reform” which has allowed wealthy farmers to profit at the expense of ordinary farmers, real reform failed to be included in the final bill, a fact the NSAC strongly laments.

And conservationists in the Great Lakes Basin are pleased by what the bill contains in support for Great Lakes conservation measures.

But if the purpose of sustainable agriculture and conservation are good food and a healthy world to enjoy it in, they mean little to any American whose stomach is not full of healthy food. So while millionaire farmers will continue to enjoy outrageous government subsidies, the poor and hungry now must make do with $8 billion less in SNAP support over ten years, a “compromise” between the $9 billion cut proposed by the House and the $4 billion cut favored by the Senate. As Joel Berg, currently the executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger told Salon, speaking of Democratic complicity in the cuts:

“George W. Bush proposed a billion dollars in cuts to SNAP, and virtually all these people were aghast at how horrible it is. For them to then turn around and justify cuts that are [eight] times as large as what George W. Bush proposed is a little hard to swallow. I do think our political system is basically evil versus spineless now.”

The “spineless” team would be the Democrats, or at least the Democrats who helped author and approve this deal. Yes, conservation and sustainability are noble goals and will help ensure that all of us have more access to healthy food, land and water. And recall that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives originally called for $40 billion in SNAP cuts, so a mere $8 billion cut is–a victory? And yet–Berg tells Salon that some 1.7 million Americans will see a reduction of $90 dollars worth of food stamps on average each month. Add to this the failure so far by Congress to extend unemployment benefits, and we have the heartless modern American equivalent of “Let them eat cake.”

This Congressional compromise was made on the backs and stomachs of the most vulnerable; it helps grow food and then withholds it. It is as if Christ’s loaves and fish were not enough for all.

UPDATE– The $8 billion cut in food stamps was justified by a rather dubious adjustment in the federal heating assistance program. Too much heat for the poor! So we’ll cut back on their food! Who do they think they are!? Millionaire farmers?

UPDATE (2/6)– See also this good piece by Monica Potts of The American Prospect.

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