Fix the Farm Bill
About a week ago the House voted down the farm bill that had been approved by the Senate. The major hurdle was cuts to the food stamp program, which is part of this bill. The House bill wanted to cut $20 billion over 10 years from what is now an $80 billion a year program. The Senate did not want any cuts. Was this the “Right Thing to do?” Are there other issues which should be considered? Let’s look at some issues:
1. About 80% of the so-called farm bill funding, which among other provisions provides price supports for a variety of crops, goes to fund food stamps.
2. A record 47 million Americans now use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—more than the population of Spain.
3. As recently as a decade ago, the program covered 21 million people, but enrollment started to climb and has spiked to more than 70% since 2008.
4. The increase in enrollment is certainly tied to the recession, but the numbers continue to increase even as the economy recovers.
5. Some say that the fact that one in seven Americans is on food stamps is not a reflection of poverty or compassion, but is an indication of the growth of government.
6. Changes under George W. Bush in 2002, the Pelosi Congress in 2008, and the 2009 Obama stimulus, expanded eligibility and loosened income tests and asset requirements to convert food stamps into another entitlement.
7. So-called categorical eligibility allows states to cross-enroll people in different welfare programs automatically. So if you qualify for a home heating subsidy, the government also includes you in the food stamp program.
8. The House bill supposedly cut $20 billion, though gimmicks ensured spending was unlikely to fall in practice—for example, they said lottery winners were ineligible for food stamps.
9. There was a move to include a work requirement pilot program and in some cases, similar to what had been discussed in Michigan, a limit on how long a person could remain on food stamps.
10. There are now 79 federal means tested programs that offer cash, food, housing, health care or social services to low income people, while SNAP is one of a dozen federal food aid programs.
11. The farm bill also includes numerous support programs for all types of crops. There has not been a review of the commodity markets for years to determine whether or not the supports should be continued. The farm bill has been one that gets extended as is because Congress cannot agree to any revisions. As with the entire US budget, no agreement is reached and at the eleventh hour they agree to extend at the current level. We may be headed in that direction again.
Is this the “Right Thing to do?” Can we continue to proceed as is? It is time to split the bill into the two major components—food aid, number one, and a real farm bill, number two? It would be too much to ask to also consolidate the multiple food aid programs into one and to review the crop supports or even to reduce unnecessary spending. For now, a major improvement would be to at least split the bill.