Jessy Gill and Y. Armando Nieto
February 7, 2014
Today, on February 7, President Obama signs into law the reconciled House and Senate 2014 Farm Bill. After two expirations and years of deliberation we welcome the passage of a full bill, but not because it is a brilliant piece of legislation. Any government that cuts $8.5 billion in food aid (SNAP) for its children and families should be ashamed, no matter the justification or frame.
For CFJC and many others, the passage comes with frustrations and disappointments.
It is accepted practice that one measure of a successful piece of legislation is that no-one is entirely satisfied with the outcome. Certainly, there is no arguing that no single community- based or social welfare organization will be satisfied with cuts made to get the bill passed through both houses of Congress. At CFJC, we are happy that some equity provisions successfully made it through negotiations and into the final bill, but other programs were eliminated under the guise of “savings.” And although cuts were not as drastic as what had been proposed, we are tired of the fool’s game where—with regard to SNAP, for example—it has also become accepted practice to propose an absurd and unsound number—such as $40 billion in proposed cuts to SNAP—so that an $8.5 billion cut is an acceptable compromise and seen as good governance.
To be clear, CFJC’s joint statement declaring support of a Farm Bill when it passed the House acknowledges how close the country came to reverting to 1938 and 1949 permanent law. This is because the current Congress has shown it will take us off a “cliff” with ideological justification. Thirty-seven programs critical to communities and families, farmers and others were also restored, after losing funding during the protracted Farm Bill process. For these reasons if no other, we had to have a Farm Bill.
The 2012 (now 2014) Farm Bill approach as a “savings” mechanism from the start is not what we believe we should expect from our representatives. We are entitled to good food and farm policy that is based in equity and supports our communities, and not partisan politics.
We expect Congress to work on our behalf. But after a “Super Committee” set the stage in late 2011, determining the need for an estimated $23 billion in “savings” (cuts) to the Farm Bill over 10 years, Congress followed suit. For the duration of the reauthorization process they worked to reach the $23 billion price point cuts.
In previous Farm Bills, support had grown for a sustainable and healthy Farm Bill, creating an environment for investment in new, small programs that would begin to develop a new and different kind of food economy, while increasing support for the hungry. What we have all just witnessed and experienced, the 2014 Farm Bill, eschews the human values that used to frame public policy in the Farm Bill in favor of “cost savings.”
People in the United States had many champions in Congress who fought for the small programs that guide towards a new food economy and a successful safety net, and for that we thank them. Many more “good” representatives just were not intimately involved in the struggle, and it is these we suspect who fell victim to the argument that $8.5 billion is a “heck of a lot better” that $40 billion in SNAP cuts.
The lesson we have to have learned from this process is that public policy is too important to be left to the politicians.
At CFJC, we are not wholly satisfied with the bill and the compromises made, and we also acknowledge that any of the programs that were cut takes us several steps back from the direction we need to be headed for food and farming in 2014 and beyond.
This means that going forward we will continue to work with partners in communities in California and across the country and in Washington, D.C. We will continue to connect the dots and tell the stories of what poor public policy does to our children and families. We will reach out our hands to individuals, groups, and leaders within and without Congress to remind them of the 2014 Farm Bill process, and challenge us all to do better.
We can begin by taking what is “good” in the 2014 Farm Bill and working to see that programs are implemented equitably. We also need to hold our representatives accountable for the harm they do with “poor” public policy.
We all need to remember that cost savings alone is not a virtue. How we spend our resources—on institutions, the people, and the things that we value—is the measure of greatness in a community and in a country.
Let’s do better by the people in this country.
Photo Credit Chicago Tribune