Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Farm Bill Deadline Approaches

As the year draws to a close, Congress has many must-pass items left on its plate.  Perhaps most pressing are the budget and the Farm Bill.  The House is scheduled to adjourn for the year next Friday, Dec. 13, but the Senate does not even return from Thanksgiving recess until next Monday, Dec. 6.  This leaves one week for them to wrap up the first session of the 113th Congress. 

Of course, that it not to say that conversations are not ongoing.  Indeed, bicameral conference committees on both issues are in the midst of delicate and intense negotiations.  Leaving aside the question of the budget for now, for after all, Congress does have a few weeks into the New Year to come to agreement before the next manufactured fiscal crisis, the focus of the faith community has been on the Farm Bill.

Our nation’s food and farm policies, as embodied in the Farm Bill, impact people and communities from rural America to big cities to developing countries. In the Farm bill are provisions that authorize SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps), international food aid, conservation programs, initiatives that support new and minority farmers and ranchers, rural development programs, sustainable energy research, farm subsidies, crop insurance, just to name the most famous.  In all, the Farm Bill is a mixed bag of policies, some of which promote a more just food system and some that trap us in a vicious cycle of subsidized commodities and under-nutrition.  Nevertheless, the Farm Bill is must-pass, if for no other reason than that it authorizes SNAP and promotes environmentally sustainable practices on working farmlands.  

In the current budget climate, which incorrectly functions from an assumption of scarcity, the Farm Bill’s limited resources must be effectively targeted where need is greatest. And people are hungry -- the U.S. and around the world. Programs and policies that curb hunger and malnutrition, support vibrant agricultural economies in rural communities, and promote the sustainable use of natural resources must be prioritized.  At the same time, we should be shifting away from investment in programs that subsidize factory farms and promote major commodities as the most viable crops for food and fuel.

Earlier in the year, serious threats were made to the funding of SNAP and on Nov. 1st, SNAP benefits were cut as a 2009 funding increase ran out.  Far from there being room to cut SNAP, most SNAP beneficiaries find that their benefits run out by the third or fourth week of the month and turn to private charity to fill gap.  If anything, we need to invest more in Food Stamp benefits.  SNAP is designed as a counter-cyclical program that expands to meet needs when the economy is bad and people lose income and become eligible.  When the jobs outlook and economy improve, it contracts as participants cycle off the program. 

So, Congress must reauthorize the SNAP program without the proposed cuts.  There is simply no way to achieve significant cuts without affecting benefits and nutrition education programs.  Write today to your members of Congress.

During the week before Thanksgiving, hundreds of Presbyterians, including our leaders Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, Moderator Neal Presa, and Executive Director Linda Valentine, are taking the Food Stamp/SNAP Challenge.  The Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons reflects on his trip to the grocery store in this article and Linda Valentine allowed the News Service to publish her journal from that week here.  Days after their SNAP Challenge concluded, they sent this letter to Congress.

With the PC(USA)’s long-held convictions about food justice and fair food and farm policy, our interests in the Farm Bill, while very concerned with the nutrition programs, are also much broader that.  In a joint statement with interfaith partners, the PC(USA) called on Congress to pass a Farm Bill that:

  • Protects and strengthens programs that reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the United States.
  • Promotes investments and policies that strengthen rural communities and combat rural poverty.
  • Provides a fair and effective farmer safety net that allows farmers in the U.S. and around the world to earn economically sustainable livelihoods.
  • Strengthens policies and programs that promote conservation and protect creation from environmental degradation.
  • Protects the dignity, health, and safety, of those responsible for working the land.
  • Promotes research related to alternative, clean, and renewable forms of energy that do not negatively impact food prices or the environment.
  • Safeguards and improves international food aid in ways that encourage local food security and improve the nutritional quality of food aid.

To read more about the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness’ advocacy around the Farm Bill and SNAP, visit our farm bill blog.