Farm Bill 2014: The Food Insecurity Bill
By: Walter Brasch
Feb 07, 2014
As part of a package of agricultural legislation, Congress and the President have passed what should be called “the food insecurity bill” that will cut $8.7 billion in food assistance (SNAP or food stamps) over the next decade. The bill will cause an estimated 850,000 low-income households in sixteen states (including Maine) to lose an average $90 in monthly benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, following an approximately $11 billion cut to SNAP benefits on November 1 of last year. Since 2007 and the beginning of the Great Recession, food stamp enrollment has surged from about 26.3 million people to 47.6 million last year, according to Agriculture Department figures.
Consequently, spending on the program has more than doubled since 2007 and represents about 2.2 percent of some $3.6 trillion in total federal spending in the 2014 fiscal year. Lower incomes and rising food costs have pushed benefits upward, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
One in six Americans receives food stamp benefits. Seventy-six percent of SNAP households enrolled include a child, a senior, or someone who is disabled. Ninety-one percent of benefits go to households with income at or below the poverty line. One in six households, or nearly 18 million people, are considered “food insecure” by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
In the New England state of Maine, Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks of which Good Samaritan of Auburn is a member, ranks Maine’s “food insecurity rate” at 15.7%; and Maine’s child food insecurity rate at 22.8% – even before these cuts take effect.
Sen. Angus King (I) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D) voted “yea” for the Farm bill which contains these food cuts; Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) and Sen. Susan Collins (R) voted “nay”. The U.S. House passed the measure 251-166 Jan. 29; the U.S. Senate passed the measure 68-32 Feb. 6. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 7.
In the view of the Editorial Board of the Washington Post [Feb 4], “In Congress’s farm bill, the rich get richer.” The bill expands crop insurance subsidies and all but guarantee beneficiaries’ revenues [agribusiness] never fall below 86 percent of their earnings during years of high crop prices. The Post asks: “Why would a president concerned about inequality endorse such welfare for the prosperous?” The New York Times [Jan. 29] felt the bill “clearly worthy of support, particularly because it will prevent austerity fanatics in future Congresses from gutting food stamps for the next five years.” The Times concluded that though the bill’s “food-stamp provisions were saved from being much worse, they will still reduce benefits for too many poor people.” A cynic might point out that the newspaper is employing the “canard” used by the Democratic Party and President Obama since 2008, “we’re saving you from much worse,” and is used here to reinforce the mirage of a two-party system and a sympathetic president. In truth, Mr. Obama verbalizes equality while facilitating inequality. Furthermore, not at the White House, in Congress or on the editorial board of The New York Times sits a poor person or a recipient of these food stamp cuts.