Friday, February 21, 2014

Farm Bill Update

Final Farm Bill Falls Short of a Faithful Farm Bill
by Leslie Woods

On February 7, President Obama signed into law the newest Farm Bill. Unfortunately, the best I can say about the overall bill is that it could have been worse.  The PC(USA) has a long history of supporting a Farm Bill that connects hungry people to what should be a sustainable food system. Last year, both the PC(USA) Big Tent and Ecumenical Advocacy Days focused on Food Justice. But this bill falls short of the justice we seek.

The Bad News: the bill cuts $8 billion from SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program. In this economic climate, it is unconscionable that we are cutting nutrition assistance to some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Due to these cuts, some 850,000 households will lose an average of $90 per month.  These cuts are unacceptable. Further, the Farm Bill fails to make reforms to Farm programs that benefit corporate Ag, like commodity and crop insurance subsidies.

The Good News: the bill invests over $1.2 billion in the innovative programs for beginning farmers, local food, organic agriculture, rural development, and specialty crops that were stranded when the Farm Bill expired in 2012.  The bill also reconnects crop insurance subsidies to basic conservation requirements. Furthermore, under this new law, U.S. international humanitarian food aid becomes much more efficient and culturally appropriate. These were all key requests of the faith community.

A Reason to be Relieved: I am not writing today about a $40 billion cut to SNAP and the four million people who would be about to lose their benefits, as I would if the House-passed Farm Bill had become law. Indeed, when thousands of Presbyterians responded to frantic action alerts about that $40 billion cut in September 2013, I could not have imagined that the final, comparable damage would be so small. 

So, the new Farm Bill is a mixed bag. The SNAP cuts are appalling, but they are not nearly as bad as they could be – or even than we thought they would be only a few months ago. The farm programs are investing in some new and innovative ideas in agriculture, even while they fall short of real reform of the system.  In all, this is not a good bill, nor is it something the PC(USA) can support, but it does do some good things.