Farm Bill failure hits poor hardest

It is painfully obvious that too many elected officials in Washington, D.C., have lost touch with the struggling people of this nation. This was demonstrated recently when House leaders proposed a Farm Bill that would have cut aid to food stamp (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients by a whopping $20 billion over a 10-year period.

The Senate version, supported by Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, cut a more manageable $4 billion from SNAP during the same period. Although the measure failed in the House, it stands as a stark reminder of how unbalanced thinking can be in Washington when it comes to “solving” the struggles of this nation’s poor.

The House may debate the Farm Bill again before September, but it will likely contain significant cuts to SNAP. That’s bad news for millions of U.S. families who are using the program as a bridge to survival.

The Farm Bill has a great impact on the fate of an estimated 47 million Americans receiving food stamps. The $20 billion in cuts identified in the $940 billion House version would have eliminated food support for an estimated 2 million Americans. The lion’s share of the Farm Bill deals directly with food assistance programs for people who qualify.

These are people who have gone through the same pains that have ravaged most Americans during the last five years as gas prices have soared, and many of the most common food products have experienced price increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 of the 10 most common food products have experienced price increases in the last five years.

For the middle class, the struggles have come in the form of belt tightening, perhaps through the loss of a family vacation, delaying the purchase of a new car or fewer dollars to put toward retirement.

For the nation’s poor, the last five years have been devastating, with fewer opportunities for jobs because of high unemployment, and a month-to-month scramble to pay rent and avoid hunger pangs.

Although it’s easy to keep poverty in the rearview mirror or omitted from our personal environment, the reality is that it affects 1 in 10 people in our state. There are hundreds of public school teachers throughout Minnesota who routinely send food home with needy kids because they are afraid they won’t eat again until they return to school.

While it is true that as a nation we must get spending under control, doing so at the expense of those who can least afford it, especially at a level proposed by the House, seems reckless. As Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum said, it may even be considered, “immoral, cruel and harmful.”

In Minnesota, the cuts would have affected an estimated 30,000 people. Currently, 1 in 10 Minnesotans receives SNAP benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is roughly 551,000 Minnesotans.

Just within the 12 counties where ECM Publishers operates newspapers, there are 221,700 people receiving SNAP assistance, with an average monthly benefit of about $232 per household. These people are not invisible. They are moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas and thousands of children who rely on adults to keep them fed.
Although there is logic behind having the food stamp program attached to the Farm Bill by creating a partnership between farm interests and urban consumers of food, it might be time to separate the two, so Americans can truly see where Congressional leaders stand on these two important issues. The House bill totaled 629 pages. Food stamps and nutrition constituted $750 billion of the $940 billion plan.

Opponents will point to the food stamp program as an enabler, allowing freeloaders to slip through without contributing to society. There will always be people who attempt to “work the system” but the overwhelming majority of recipients take no joy in accepting assistance.

In fact, in households with children who receive food stamps, 62 percent had at least one adult in the workforce in the month that they received support. And in the year prior to or the year immediately after a family with children received food stamps, 87 percent had one adult in the workforce. This hardly paints a picture of participants who want to remain on the program without working.

Critics also often point to widespread fraud among participants. Ever since EBT cards were implemented to track purchases electronically, the USDA estimates that 96 percent of all transactions are accurate.

If spending cuts are to be made, all Americans may need to bear some burden. But leaders must do better with future nutrition spending proposals in the Farm Bill and not make a dire situation for our nation’s poor seem even more hopeless.

An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board. The Stillwater Gazette is a publication of ECM Publishers, Inc.

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