Last week the House of Representatives voted to enact a Farm Bill that did not include a Nutrition title. In other words, the bill they passed does not include SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly Food Stamps), our nation’s widest-reaching, most effective anti-hunger program. A Farm Bill with no Nutrition title divorces the obvious marriage of food production from feeding hungry people. This is an appalling effort to weaken programs that serve those in need and it is unacceptable.
What is the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill should better be called our Food Security bill, even though many of its programs are imperfect, because it has traditionally coupled the interests of food producers with food eaters. Further, these interests have served to protect each other and made the Farm Bill one of the most historically bipartisan bills over time. This new House bill destroys that security and partnership.
The Farm bill came together originally out of a coalition of rural and urban policy-makers looking to assure food security for all. Traditionally, Farm Bill debates have not been partisan, but rather have fallen along lines of rural and urban representation. But now, this collaboration of rural and urban interests is falling apart as a result of the excessive partisanship of this Congress. Members of Congress seem to be forgetting the key protections offered through this bill to
the people they are elected to represent.
What Happened Last Week:
After the House failed to pass a Farm Bill before the July 4th recess, the Leadership had to reconsider its strategy. The bill had failed, primarily, because it cut $20 billion from SNAP and placed onerous restrictions on beneficiaries. In an unusually partisan battle, the Democrats voted against the bill because of the cuts and restrictions to SNAP and some Republicans also opposed it for not cutting enough spending overall.
For Leadership, the choice should have been obvious: bring a bill to the floor that looked more like the Senate bill, with its much smaller cut to SNAP and bipartisan support (66 Senators voted in favor of the Senate Farm Bill). Such a bill likely would have passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, but instead, the Leadership chose to leave behind poor and hungry people. The new bill, with no Nutrition title, was introduced late last Wednesday and then brought up for debate Thursday morning for discussion then stalled throughout the day while there was a massive dash to count up votes.
During this time of floor debate, we heard important voices in support of a more holistic Farm Bill that must include robust support for nutrition and anti-hunger programs. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said “We are the Congress of the United States of America, of the most powerful nation in this planet, and we must take care of our people.” As a Methodist pastor himself, he recognizes the importance of caring for God’s people. Then groups as far ranging as the Environmental Working Group, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the Club for Growth all opposed this legislation.
The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness strongly opposes the separation of Nutrition from the Farm Bill and urges the House, instead, to take up the Senate-passed bill.
To read our action alert from last Thursday, visit our blog.
And for the interfaith letter opposing the separation of hunger from food production, click here.
Attacking the Process:
On top of the devastating attack on SNAP, this bill is horrible for the political process. It takes what has traditionally been a widely supported piece of bipartisan legislation and instead, divides it up as a partisan bargaining tool. Also of concern is the lack of transparency in the process. The decision to move the farm-only bill was made behind closed doors and the contents of the bill were not publically available until late in the evening the night before debate began at 9:30am. This left no time for Members to review the bill thoroughly, nor did it allow time for constituents to weigh in with their elected officials. And last, though a separate nutrition bill was implicit in the decision to move a farm-only bill, no member of Leadership provided any guarantee that the House would actually take up the Nutrition title as a stand-alone bill.
This separation of the Farm Bill’s farm and nutrition programs fails to consider all aspects of caring for God’s people. This political spectacle is a step in the wrong direction. If Congress chooses to send the Senate-passed Farm Bill and this House-passed farm-only bill to a conference committee, where members from both Chambers will be tasked with coming up with a compromise on a final farm bill, we will urge that the final compromise be far more just.
More information about the Farm-only bill:
In reviewing the House farm-only bill, we were surprised to find that the bill makes the new commodity programs permanent. This would be in stark comparison to the rest of the bill that will still require reauthorization every five years, and will therefore be in danger of reverting to the 1949 version of the bill, if Congress allows the bill to expire again, as it did in 2012. This would eliminate the need for big agribusinesses to support a new farm bill, but it would leave pieces the PC(USA) is very concerned about, such as conservation, rural development, and renewable energy, vulnerable to these kinds of political maelstroms. This House bill secures big agribusiness profits, while neglecting the future of hungry people, our environment, and rural farmers and communities.
This legislation does have some of the pieces that we originally supported, including:
- the Fortenberry Amendment, which caps commodity payments at $250,000 per year for any one farm. This payment limit is important for ensuring that federal farm supports are more targeted to smaller farms that need more support, while the corporate farms are allowed to bear some more of their own risk.
- closing loopholes in current law to ensure payments reach working farmers, their intended recipients.
- important conservation efforts such as the wetland reserve program and the grassland reserve program are protected
But despite these positive pieces, the bill places these important pieces in peril in 2018 and beyond, while also completely severing and federal policy partnership between and hunger and food. Without the wide swath of bipartisan support this historically important legislation will be torn apart.