The current farm bill, known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, expires the end of September and is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. It continues to be the subject of intense congressional deliberations in the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee; and the House Agriculture Committee.
What’s at Stake?
This important piece of legislation is threatened by cuts to many of the programs that the food bank supports. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is one of the programs most affected by some proposed budgetary changes. The Senate is proposing a $4 billion cut from SNAP and $23 billion in cuts in farm assistance. On the other hand, the House proposal targets $33 billion in reductions from SNAP and other assistance programs, while leaving farm assistance at its current level.
The President’s budget calls for a modest increase in spending on food and nutrition services, including SNAP. Proposals introduced to counter fraud, especially for those receiving SNAP, may adversely affect many who legitimately need assistance. According to USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon, only 1 percent of SNAP benefits are the result of fraud. Those affected by the restricting of eligibility appear to be college students. When Michigan tightened its eligibility requirements, 30,000 students lost their benefits.
U.S. Senate action to date includes the following:
- The Senate is expected to consider the Farm Bill the week of June 4.
- Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) does not believe that she has the 60 votes in the Senate needed to move the bill forward.
- Senate Agriculture Committee Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) predicts that the current Farm Bill will be extended until 2013 and will be up for reconsideration this time next year.
- Southern Senators are not expected to support of the bill because, in their opinion, it has inadequate protection for farmers.
- Senate Democrats, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), remain concerned that funding levels are too low for nutrition programs, particularly SNAP.
The House is expected to mark up the Farm Bill this June, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has stated that he does not intend to bring the legislation to the floor this year.
One of the most significant differences between the House and the Senate versions of the bill is the funding for nutrition programs. This and other differences are not likely to be resolved this year.
How You Can Help
What can you do? Don’t let up. Continue contacting your congressional representatives and ask them to support safety net programs in the Farm Bill. Make it a goal to contact them once a month by phone, or e-mail stressing the importance of the safety net programs. Also if you are a member of the Community Outreach Council, please invite your members to attend your events and ask them to volunteer and meet the people who depend on these safety net programs.