This week, the House is considering a Food Stamp bill – the companion to the farm only Farm Bill passed earlier this summer – that calls for a reduction in the food stamp budget. If the bill passes with the budget reduction, it will pass right along party lines.
The cost of the federal food stamp program has exploded over the past decade, according to the Department of Agriculture. In 2001, the program served 17 million people at a cost of just over $15 billion. By 2012, there were 46 million people enrolled in the program at a cost of a little under $75 billion. Democrats say the program has grown because the economy tanked; Republicans argue much of the expansion is attributed to states giving benefits to people who do not qualify.
Regardless of the outcome of the budget line for this bill, farmers need SOMETHING to pass in order to get the farm programs they rely on passed … and it might be confusing why this is so.
The number of Congressmen who serve agricultural districts is dwindling. This is a direct response to the number of farmers who are also dwindling. Our representation system is designed to work this way, so it should come as no surprise. What isn’t dwindling is the number of people employed and affected by agriculture … though many of them may not even realize that their food is grown and not simply wished into being by the grocery store.
Because the number of elected officials with a direct connection to the farms and rural areas is smaller, and because the people in the urban areas of America don’t understand their connection to the farm, the number of Congressmen who are bought into a farm bill that really works for America’s farmers is small.
Enter the food stamp program.
Though there are several reasons why the food stamp program and the farm bill became legislatively linked over the years, the most important one for our purposes today is that more Congressmen are interested in food stamps than are interested in farm programs. And we need the Congressmen interested in passing a workable food aid program to vote for the bill in order to get a farm program bill passed.
That the House is struggling so much to pass the full farm bill is testiment to our current political climate – which isn’t a ocean we really need to dive into today.
The Senate already passed a more traditional farm bill, which included both farm programs and food aid, and that bill waits for a House version in order to conference a final bill. The House will struggle to get the final portion of the farm bill – the food stamp portion – through this week. Some experts predict they are still 10-12 votes short.
As for the farmers, we will all be on the edge of our seat, praying for the food stamp portion of the bill to pass the House this week so that we can continue to move to conference committee and hopefully end up with a workable farm program for 2014. We’re already too late to acheive this before the current extension expires on September 30.
Sometimes, there’s nothing left to say so I leave you with this:
“If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches
there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.” ~Will Rogers