You may have been hearing news recently about the new Farm Bill being passed into the Senate. However, the Farm Bill has been around for a long time. It first came to be in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a part of the New Deal, under the name the “Agricultural Adjustment Act.” Its role was to pay farmers subsidies for not planting certain crops, as well as killing off excess livestock. By doing this, the surplus of crops would be decreased, and the value (price) for crops would increase. Today, the Farm Bill has expanded to cover agriculture (commodity programs, conservation programs, and trade), nutrition, rural development, and the forest service. Every five years the bill (now The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240)) is passed.
This bill “ends direct payments, streamlines and consolidates programs, and reduces the deficit by $23 billion. It also strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers, and small business owners continue to grow our economy.” Sounds great!!
Although the Farm Bill covers forestry, rural agriculture, commodity programs, and nutrition; it is the nutrition programs that account for 67% of the Farm Bill spending.
One of the programs that the Farm Bill covers is SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Previously known as “Food Stamps,” SNAP helps supplement the monthly food budget for low-income Americans. Depending on their monthly income, a family of four could receive up to $668 per month, and an individual could receive up to $200 per month. Food items that are eligible to be purchased with SNAP include:
- Breads and cereals
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Dairy products
- Seeds & plants that produce food (ie: tomato plants, carrot seeds)
- Special occasion cakes with over 50% of the value coming from the edible portion (up to 50% of value on non-edible decorations)
- Gift baskets with over 50% of the value coming from food items (up to 50% of the value can be on non-food items)
- Energy drinks with a nutrition label
- …Junk food such as chips, soda, cookies, ice cream, candy bars, crackers, popsicles, etc.
Items that cannot be purchased with SNAP:
- Vitamins, Medicines, Supplements
- Alcohol, tobacco, cigarettes
- Energy drinks with a supplement label
- Foods that will be eaten in the store
- Hot foods
- Pet food
Several times in the history of SNAP, congress has considered placing further limits on what foods qualify for SNAP. I mean, imagine a family using all $350 of their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, remember) money to buy liters of Pepsi, quarts of ice cream, packages of cookies, a chocolate cake from the grocer bakery section, a 6-pack of energy drinks, cookies, Little Debbies, and potato chips. Currently, families can do that if they would like. Obviously, many people (including myself!) think that congress should make only nutritious foods qualify for SNAP, and not “luxury” foods. But because of the time and labor that it would take to categorize all these food items, it remains up to the individuals or families to decide whether they want to buy junk food or nutritious food or a mix of both.
Now back to the Farm Bill…
Other nutrition programs the Farm Bill covers include the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and research. When these programs are funded properly, it puts Americans on the right path to improved health and nutritional status. It also ensures that the right people are using SNAP benefits, and that the fraud and abuse within SNAP is decreased.
Thursday, June 21st the Farm Bill passed in the US Senate, with 64-35. Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan casted the 60th yea vote. The next step is for the House to pass their version of the bill.
Curious about how spending will be cut? Read on (courtesy of Southeast Farm Press):
“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 cuts spending by:
• Finally ending direct payment farm subsidies, meaning farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing; will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted; and will not be paid when they are already doing well. Instead farmers will only receive support in the face of actual price or yield drops. Crop insurance will be strengthened to ensure farmers are protected from being wiped out by a few days of bad weather;
• Cracking down on fraud and abuse in food assistance programs so resources are used for those who truly need them. For example, the proposal would take lotto winners off of food assistance, stop misuse by college students who are still dependent on non-low-income families, and crack down on benefit trafficking and help keep liquor stores from participating in the program;
• Making agriculture initiatives more cost-effective-eliminating more than 100 programs and authorizations in the agriculture committees’ jurisdiction while still largely accomplishing the same goals and making programs easier to use. For example, 23 existing conservation programs are consolidated into 13 while still maintaining the same tools currently available to protect our land and water-even increasing investment in top priorities like Great Lakes Protection.”
The farm bill will also help farmers, ranchers, and small business owners create jobs by helping farms to expand their export opportunities to sell to new markets, strengthening research to support innovation among produce growers, increasing support for farmer’s markets, providing training and resources to help new farmers start their business, helping bio-manufacturing businesses (ie: ones using corn rather than petroleum to create plastic) get on their feet as well as expand, and extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities grow their economies.