My Dear Friends:
The end of July, and our Congress has about a week left before they disperse for the August recess and presumably to prepare for their party conventions.
On behalf of CFJC, Christina Spach and I had front row seats to the House Ag Committee markup process which lasted til nearly 1:00 am on Thursday morning, July 12th.
But perhaps my perceptions were tainted by an earlier experience in the overflow room, when the solemn deliberative air turned almost festive as TV monitors showed members of Congress debating cuts to SNAP (food stamps), by either $4.5 billion, $16.5 billion, or $33 billion.
There was nothing festive about the proposed cuts, from where we were sitting.
When we arrived in D.C. we attended a press conference of anti-hunger groups and Congress members, including Congressman Clyburn (D-SC), who called the proposed $16.5 billion cuts to SNAP “an abomination.” Several members of Congress spoke of the 280,000 children who would lose food stamps, or 2 million households including seniors and single parents who would no longer be eligible for SNAP if a $16.5 billion Farm Bill amendment passed.
More than one member of Congress at the press conference began their statement with, “I am not proud to say” that I was once on food stamps.
I wanted to shout—on the contrary, I am proud to live in a country that provides food for children and people in need. Where, with such aid, you can grow up to be a member of Congress!
At the markup hearing the next day, for 15 hours, with a single 1½ hour break for a 33rd attempt to repeal the National Health Care Law, 46 Members of the House Ag Committee debated 104 amendments to the 2012 proposed House Farm Bill. In the end, a bill was passed.
What happens now, and why are members of a California coalition so concerned about national food policy?
- Because $16.5 billion in SNAP benefits were cut from the House Farm Bill, which would affect thousands of households throughout California;
- Because a conference process to reconcile the House and Senate Farm Bill versions is only one possibility for what we have to look forward to;
- Because a drought in the mid-west means that emergency farm (corn) funding could throw many hard fought compromises out the window;
- Because we still have the looming budget deficit, lack of a federal budget, and mandatory Sequestration process that could automatically cut many programs dear to people in California, and across the country.
As I understand it from those who have participated in the Farm Bill reauthorization process for decades, the stakes are higher, but we should not be surprised by a sudden end to funding for programs California communities have fought for, all in the name of emergency aid and “fiscal responsibility.”
And it is not all about people and food stamps. We have to pay attention to what transpires, or face the prospect of losing funding for our local farmers’ markets; organic produce; or education programs that give our children a chance to change their diets, and perhaps live as long as their parents.
Although a newcomer to the Farm Bill process, I am not new to policy making, at either the state or national level. But when the stakes are so high, it is difficult to keep a straight face as one of our leaders alternately cites fiscal responsibility, states rights, or personal compassion to justify a position on proposed amendments.
At times it seemed all too convenient to cite one of the above in support of a favored (one of the 104 proposed) amendment.
Chairman Lucas (R-OK), opened the hearings by stating that the purpose of the committee was to make cuts and find savings in the Farm Bill.
At CFJC, we don’t think so.
We believe the business of Congress is to provide for the common welfare. The question of values, of how we as a country prioritize our spending is much larger than a single bill. Certainly, a Congress that has abrogated its responsibility for governing, for working together to address spending, to adopt a federal budget, has a lot to answer for, and we should hold them accountable.
However, we all should be able to agree that feeding our people, caring for our environment, and supporting local business and communities come first. N’est-ce pas?
At this point we all have to take a back seat on the roller coaster ride that is a 10 year $1 trillion Farm Bill process. Things will move quickly behind closed doors, and each of us can weigh in on what is important at our local member of Congress’s office.
Consider that one of the options we might very well see is that a conference (compromise) House and Senate Farm Bill will emerge over the next few weeks and months, to be attached to an unrelated bill for an up or down vote.
Is this really any way to run a country?
Again, we all have to pay attention to this process, because each of us will be affected by the outcome in ways that we can only begin to imagine.
Perhaps it is true that the most we as citizens can do this time around is become aware of how food policy is crafted. But maybe that will be enough. If thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and more take notice.
You can stay informed by linking to one of the organizational websites highlighted in this message, or visiting the CFJC website, or better yet, contacting your Senator or representative’s office for updates.
Thank you in advance for your personal commitment to the health and well-being of our families. Thank you for caring, and for taking the time to make an effort.
And yes, if you are able, please consider making a contribution to help CFJC continue working on your behalf.
All the best.