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Photo by USDA SNAP Program
Photo by USDA, SNAP Program

Looking At One Aspect Of The Farm Bill: Food Stamps

The farm bill might be better named the food bill. After all, only 11% of funding in the farm bill [3] goes to farm policies. More than 84% of farm bill-related spending goes to such food and nutrition programs as food stamps.

Learn more about the farm bill here. [4]

Recent figures show that one in eight Americans and one in four children go to bed hungry at night. Moreover, a record-high of 47 million low-income people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

Some argue that we should get rid of the entire farm bill [5] altogether, drop the safety net for farmers, and eliminate food assistance programs. Others say it would be nearly impossible to end SNAP and leave millions of people wondering where their next meal will come from. While some see a bloated government program, others see a life-saving support system.

According to Reuters [6], SNAP certainly needs some adjustments if it’s going to continue to support hungry Americans.

“During and following the 2007-2009 recession, demand for food stamps soared, with middle-class families who found themselves suddenly homeless and jobless pushing enrollment to a record 47.7 million people by September 2012. Even during the recovery, demand has remained high and food pantries and soup kitchens continue to feel the strain. But the program rankles many, especially some Republicans, who see it as a bloated government handout.  Fraud concerns are also an ongoing issue.

“The USDA is slow to react to rising food costs. There is a 16-month lag between when the government assesses the cost of food and when it adjusts benefit amounts to accommodate fluctuations. The dearth of affordable supermarkets in many cities means that urban dwellers, who represent a high proportion of those in poverty, must pay more for healthy foods. Food stamps are intended for buying cheap basic ingredients and unprocessed foods.

“The U.S. Congress has passed a one-year extension of the farm bill [7] that allocates money for food assistance, along with agricultural programs. Republicans' desire to reduce benefits has become a major obstacle to passing a wider, more comprehensive farm bill that would cost $500 billion. They are seeking $16 billion of cuts in the program over 10 years - the deepest cuts in a generation. Many also question the formulas used to determine how much each family receives. USDA assumes families will spend 30% of their incomes on food when, in fact, most can afford to spend only 13% given rising costs for housing and healthcare, it said. That means that as the families' incomes rise, the government reduces their benefits too sharply.”

While I’m fortunate to not have to rely on food stamps to buy my groceries, you can bet there are those in my community and surrounding area who need this support. However, in light of needed budget cuts, the farm bill [8] increasingly is looking to many people like a good place to start. But, while most think of the farm bill as consisting only of food stamps and farm subsidies, the program also offers support to beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as conservation programs, for example. These are programs important to our nation’s food security and overall environmental quality.

How do you see the farm bill? Is it a needed tool for Americans, or is it outdated? What do you need from a farm bill? Or, do you think it’s time to eliminate it altogether? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.