What’s Your Take on the Farm Bill Process?

Featured image cross-posted from Florida Organic Growers

Below are some of our thoughts, what are yours? Email us at foodtalks@cafoodjustice.org.

Posted  June 19, 2013

Senate Farm Bill 101

Marine Dageville, Climate Change Intern

The Senate Farm Bill was passed on June 10th, 2013 with a margin of 66 to 27.  The bill, coauthored by Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), enacts legislation on diverse issues such as crop insurance, food assistance, foreign food aid, land conservation and forestry. The Senate Farm Bill will cost $955 billion dollars over the next ten years and cuts $24 billion dollars from the current Farm Bill.  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and conservation will bear the brunt of most of the cuts: $4.1 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively.  SNAP cuts will have far reaching affects to people and communities around the country. The cuts reduce monthly nutrition benefits for 500,000 families by an average of $90 a month[1]. The Senate Farm Bill increases foreign food assistance from $40 billion to $60 billion; rejecting a proposal from the Obama administration to overhaul the foreign food assistance by allowing governments to buy local food rather than buying food from the United States and then having it shipped.

The Farm Bill also makes major changes to the way that farmers receive subsidies; direct payments will be stopped, which will save around $17.44 billion. However, the money that used to go to direct payments and counter-cyclical payments will be reinvested into crop insurance, disaster assistance and subsidized loans.  The Farm Bill is often criticized for favoring large farmers and our Congress Members, however the Senate Farm Bill does not do much to change this reality; one third of subsidies go to the top 4% of farm operators, and last year alone Rep Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) received $62,857 through farm subsidies. Subsidies were extended for rice and peanut farmers and critics believe that the minimum price set is too low; thus, rice and peanut growers revenues will be above average. However, a step forward for conservation was an amendment decreeing that to receive crop insurance farmers must enact conservation programs.

The below figure shows how the Senate Farm Bill budget is allocated over the next ten years [2].


[1]  http://www.phi.org/news-events/485/public-health-institute-statement-on-us-senate-passage-of-the-farm-bill
[2] Image credit: Washington Post:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/10/the-senate-is-voting-on-a-955-billion-farm-bill-heres-whats-in-it/ 

Posted June 24, 2013

Snaps to SNAP Supporters

Julianna Oldroyd, Administrative Intern

Contrary to the overwhelming majority who passed the Farm Bill in the Senate by a vote of 66-27 on May 14, 2013, the House of Representatives voted down the Bill by a vote of 234 to 195 on June 20, 2013. The Farm Bill encompasses numerous aspects of the U.S. agricultural and food policy, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). This program enables 47 million people – students, children, low-income families, veterans, and elderly – to purchase food. The Republicans in the House proposed $20 billion in cuts to SNAP, whereas the Senate proposed $4.1 billion in cuts.

If the Farm Bill passed in the House, it would have removed 2 million SNAP recipients from the program, ended free school meals for 210,000 children, and cut international food aid by $2.5 billion over 5 years. Preventing our nation’s most vulnerable access to food is a human rights violation. The Farm Bill would contribute to the oppression of millions of people in the United States. I believe our elected Congressmen and Congresswomen, including 62 Republicans who joined 172 Democrats, took a stand against these flawed amendments. Despite current confusion and frustration among the House, it was a day of victory for many.

Stop Hunger imgI have profound gratitude that we live in a country that values democracy, and which can stand against amendments that would blatantly hurt our nation’s most underserved. Democratic Congresswoman, Barbara Lee, stated, “I am so proud of my colleagues who joined me in the fight against the Republican’s attack on our social safety net. This Farm Bill added injury for the nation’s poor. It was heartless, it was reckless, and now, I’m proud to say, it has failed.” Although this is yet another roadblock and there will now be a third iteration of the 2012 Farm Bill, I have growing faith that our elected Congressmen and Congresswomen will continue to fight for our rights, and protect the millions of Americans who would be directly impacted by these policies.

Posted June 24, 2013

SNAP Trial and Error

Adrienne Pollack, Policy Research Intern

This last week, I felt more disappointment in our democratic system than I had in a long time.  The House of Representatives debated back and forth about whether or not they would pass the 2012 Farm Bill until, come Thursday, they decided not to pass it.  This was largely due to the fact that 172 Democrats could not agree with the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, more widely known as food stamps), while 62 Republicans voted no because they believed the funding for the program was not cut enough.  I knew that the program could afford few cuts, as those proposed could remove 2 million recipients from the program, end free school meals for 210,000 children that would not afford a meal otherwise, and reduce SNAP benefits by about $90 per month for 850,000 households [1].

While these first two effects were unquestionably negative, the last part struck me by surprise.  Weren’t the current allotted food stamp funds hard enough to live on?  Most SNAP recipients are employed, working students, and/or have families they support with SNAP, and an average recipient will receive $133.41 a month, averaging out to $4.45 a day.  Being a college student that is able to frequent school dining halls for meals, I had little knowledge about whether or not $4.45 was a comfortable amount to live off of for an extended amount of time.  It sure sounded like an inadequate amount.  SNAP cuts were the largest issue in the debate of the Farm Bill, and while I knew that the program was already difficult enough to live off of, it was time for a reality check.  I decided that I’d live off of $4.45 per day that weekend to see for myself if this was a livable, sustainable lifestyle.

Food bought_Adrienne_imgFriday morning I drove with my mom to Pak’n$ave, a store my family purchased nearly all of our food from when my parents were students paying for medical school.  It’s fast and cheap.  Driving there, my mom pointed to a McDonalds across the street.  “There’s the McDonalds we’d go to for lunch after groceries,” she said, as she skimmed the rest of the area for changes.  There had been quite a bit of recent construction.  Inside of Pak’n$ave, I allotted myself $13.35 to buy food for three days.  As I skimmed the sections for some breakfast, I settled on some oatmeal for $2, and then I walked down the vegetable isle to find sweet potatoes, purchasing two for $2.73.  For a protein I found firm tofu for $1.25 (being a vegan, I was determined to prove on the side that veganism wasn’t a privilege only the economically secure could access, but instead of tofu one can purchase a pound or so of ground meat for about $1.50).  I bought a cabbage for $2, two zucchinis for $1.53, and a can of diced tomatoes for $.89 to make soup, as well as two bananas, a carrot, three ears of corn, and, one of the handsomest finds in the bunch, three plump sandwich loaves for a dollar.  My total came out to $13.05, and I had to put back an onion I had wanted for my soup.  It surprised me to see how expensive most of the produce was; $1.99 per pound for onions sounded ridiculous.  On the drive home, I had one of the $.33 mini loaves of bread for breakfast.  Tasted like a good deal.

When I got home, I started some soup on the stove and threw the potatoes in the oven. The potatoes would be my dinner for the next couple days, my soup the diced tomatoes, half of the cabbage, a zucchini, an ear of corn, a third of my tofu, and way too much salt—an accident on my part to compensate for the lack of broth.  It tasted bland, but it filled me up.  After working on some construction in the backyard, for dinner I had more soup and oatmeal with a bit of brown sugar.  I found myself satisfied in a way that I wasn’t starving (though I found myself feeling more hungry than usual), but I also found myself craving interesting flavors, ones that tempted me to have another bite.  I craved flavors other than sugar and salt.

The next mornings around yard work I cooked oatmeal with a banana and a small spoonful of brown sugar.  My lunches at work were watered down soup and toasted sandwich rolls with a bit of the mustard we served, which tasted like a pretzels.  The sweet potatoes for dinners really had the flavors I was craving; with a natural sweetness and a substantial feel, I was glad I’d picked them in the first place.  They also went well with a bit of corn.  I found myself losing appetite at the other meals though, waiting only until I was hungry to eat yet another bowl of oatmeal.donuts at store_img

Overall, I felt that for me, living off of $4.45 per day was doable, but in no way was it desirable.  I found myself budgeting too much and hardly enjoying the flavors in the meals I had made.  If I got hungry late at night, rather than grabbing a snack I worried about whether or not I had enough for the next day and ignored my appetite.  My meals had too much sugar and salt, and in the long term I know how easy it would be to give up on trying to eat healthful, fresh food.

Walking through the market it was tempting to buy Ramen noodles for $.50 a package or a dozen doughnuts for $5.00—thoughts like “that could be a part of my breakfast for twelve days, nearly $.42 per day leaving me $4.03 for the rest” were too substantial to ignore.  Had I gone to the market for another trip, my choices may have been different.  If I had a family to feed on SNAP, I would likely give in to buying inexpensive unhealthy foods like these just to bring a satisfactory amount of food to the table for my children.

With 15% of the US population currently participating in SNAP and 67% eligible to participate, I feel now that it is especially important to elevate SNAP as a priority within the Farm Bill [2][3].

I watched as my security and quality in food choices fell in a matter of just a few days.  Large cuts would have been devastating to the health of millions, so in a way I’m glad that so many Democrats held strong when confronted with proposed cuts.  However, I’m extremely disappointed that both parties cannot reconcile on large issues such as these, suspending the fate of the millions of Americans that depend on SNAP.


[1] Rosenbaum, Dottie, and Stacy Dean. “House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Would Cut Nearly 2 Million People off SNAP.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. N.p., 16 May 2013. Web. 22 June 2013. <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view>.

[2] “SNAP/Food Stamp Participation « FoodResearch & ActionCenter.” Food Research Action Center. N.p., Mar. 2013. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://frac.org/reports-and-resources/snapfood-stamp-monthly-participation-data/>.

[3] “SNAP: Frequently Asked Questions.” SNAP To Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/>.

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