Welcome back to the farm bill — or Washington’s version of “The Hunger Games.”
It will never match a government shutdown or Syria’s mayhem. But the farm bill fight is a civil war in its own right: pitting one region against another and creating its own set of refugees in a real test of the heart and soul of American agriculture.
Two great battles are being fought at once. The first — over the future of food stamps, retitled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — has already fractured the old alliance between farmers and food aid.
With an eye toward the 2014 elections — and beyond — Cantor’s proposal is billed as Welfare Reform 2.0 with the goal of toughening work requirements while maintaining a core safety net for the very poor. But single mothers with preschool children are swept into the mix. Innovative training programs in states like Washington and New York could be put at risk. And the bill reinstates a flawed asset test on the poor that any farmer who has bought seed or a tractor in the past 20 years knows is hopelessly out of date.
At a sugar lobby symposium at a Napa resort, of all places, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) chose to champion the cuts last month, preaching of “certain moral hazards we’ve built into most social safety net programs” — like food stamps. This from a commodity chairman who had just voted to make the sugar program permanent law and begin a new 80 percent taxpayer-financed insurance premium subsidy for cotton. Who writes this stuff: Jonathan Swift?The problem is that the GOP creates this false image that SNAP recipients are lazy free loaders that are committing fraud and don't deserve tax payer money. Whether it is Thune:
Opponents of the federally funded food stamp program are increasingly using the specter of fraud to justify leaving millions of Americans without vital access to food for their families. Republican members of Congress—Senator John Thune (R-N.D.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) to name only a few—have all cited fraud as their reason for slashing funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).or Kristi Noem:
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), who’s gotten over $500,000 in subsidy payments since 1995, is a particularly interesting case. While Noem is diplomatic in most public statements on food stamps, she endorses a common smear of the program when away from cameras. In a constituent letter obtained by ThinkProgress, Noem wrote that “loopholes and fraud in the current program have lead to federal spending on SNAP to increase [sic] by 270 percent over the past ten years.” Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO) offers to same rationale for the cuts, and has taken $500,000 in farm subsidies as well.The problem with all this talk is that it ignores the real faces of those that utilize SNAP benefits. Who are these people?
Who is using the program? According to 2010 data from the Congressional Budget Office, three of four households using food stamps include a child, a senior citizen, or a disabled person. The annual income of these families was on average $8,800 and they received an average SNAP benefit of $287 a month. Many people receiving food stamps are also working, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In families with children receiving food stamps, 60 percent work and 90 percent have worked within a year before or after.In South Dakota, where the average SNAP benefit is $132.80, the faces of those that receive SNAP benefits number more than 103,000. It is a varied face of people that are by and far not looking for pity or scorn, but help in a difficult time. Let's stop playing the hunger games with the people in our country that are least able to purchase our politicians and begin to see who they really are.