If farm bill doesn’t address hunger, what’s it for?

Forty years ago this past summer Congress was faced with the challenge of passing a new farm bill. I’m sure the requisite number of hearings was held and a flock of issues raised, including the impact of the legislation on the federal budget.

But once the Agriculture Committees drafted a new farm bill, it was introduced in the Senate on May 23, 1973, and passed on June 8 by a vote of 78-9. The House Ag Committee version was introduced in the House on June 20 and passed on July 19. President Nixon signed the bill on Aug. 10.

So in the space of 57 calendar days, Congress introduced, debated and passed a new farm bill. In contrast, this Congress or rather the current Congress and its immediate predecessor have been working on a farm bill for nearly three years.

The latest timetable has Congress not taking up the farm bill until October, and it appears that unless the House reaches an agreement with the Senate on nutrition programs, it may not complete its work on the legislation this calendar year, either. (See http://southwestfarmpress.com/government/farm-bill-conference-likely-early-october.)

If it wasn’t such a serious topic for farmers, it would almost be funny. The Congress of the United States cannot pass a bill aimed at feeding the country because some of its members won’t recognize a percentage of its citizens go to bed hungry most nights.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, who has shown the patience of Job during the long months of maneuvering over the farm bill, summed up the situation very succinctly in a meeting with his constituents the other day:

“It shouldn’t be this hard to pass a farm bill that makes sure we have food.”

You can debate the merits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) and who’s deserving of benefits until the cows come home. But the facts, as reported by USDA recently, are that 14.5 percent of U.S. households suffer from chronic hunger and a larger percent don’t earn enough money from their hourly wages to feed their families day in and day out.

Proponents of the nearly $40 billion in cuts in the SNAP and other nutrition programs claim that something’s wrong with the program because the number of recipients has risen to 48 million people. That the number of recipients has steadily increased during one of the worst recessions since the 1930s surely shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

While this debate drags on, the national media are having a field day criticizing farmers for receiving millions in farm program benefits while part of the Congress wants to remove 4 million to 6 million Americans from the SNAP program. One of their favorite targets is a member of Congress who reportedly has received $3.5 million in farm program subsidies.

Anyone who has followed the farm program debate for years knows that this is comparing apples to oranges. But that argument is lost on the general public who see the issue as members of Congress beating up on poor people.

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