By Bryan Hanger, Advocacy Assistant, Office of Public Witness
The Farm Bill is one of the largest pieces of legislation Congress deals with, and this week the bill was finally passed and signed into law after a three-year legislative process. The $956 billion bill will be in effect for the next five years and it affects things such as farming policy, international food aid, food stamps, and conservation. Below are a few points of interest for the church.
Food stamps: Cut by $8 billion
The largest part of the Farm Bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps, is the most direct way that the government provides food assistance to those in need. Unfortunately, SNAP was cut by $8 billion, which will significantly affect the food security of hundreds of thousands of families in the United States. But things could have been much worse. Originally, the House of Representatives proposed a $40 billion cut to SNAP. The impact of this smaller cut is still damaging for the food security of many people.
One positive improvement for SNAP is the creation of a new federal program that will allow SNAP recipients to double the value of their SNAP monies at local farmers markets. Many local and state governments already have enacted similar measures, and now the federal government wants to build on that success by increasing the affordability of fresh foods for many more SNAP recipients.
International food aid: Taking a more flexible approach
This new Farm Bill also signals a shift in America’s international food aid policy. The aid process is shifting away from a food-based system to a more flexible cash-based system. This change will allow for the local purchase of food aid, which will both improve the freshness of the food provided, and also stimulate local and regional economies. This is a big step forward in improving the effectiveness and quality of the United States’ food assistance abroad.
Farming: Direct payments gone, crop insurance is expanded
There also was a considerable change to farming policy, as direct payments to farmers were eliminated and crop insurance has become the safety net for farmers. The direct payments had been widely criticized since they were based only on the number of acres of farmland owned, and not on the condition of the crops produced.
Crop insurance is intended to help keep farmers afloat when prices drop or crop yields unexpectedly change, but many critics see the expanded crop insurance plan as simply a different way to subsidize large agribusinesses. The average family farmer’s opinion of these changes will likely vary depending on which crops they produce, but only time will tell if these changes to farming policy work as planned, or if large agribusinesses will continue to reap the benefits while family farms continue to struggle.
Conservation: Tied to crop insurance expansion
As for the bill’s support for conservation, it seems to be a mixed bag. Conservation funding was cut by about $4 billion. However, there was good news in that conservation practices are now tied to the crop insurance program mentioned above. This means that in order to receive payments from the crop insurance program, farmers will have to demonstrate they are implementing conservation practices such as preventing land erosion and protecting wetlands.
Overall, this farm bill is certainly not a perfect bill. Programs designed to feed the hungry were cut, family farms are not certain how the expanded crop insurance will affect them. On the other hand, the ability to provide vital food aid abroad has improved and some small steps were taken to protect more of God’s creation.
If you have questions about the Farm Bill, please contact Nathan Hosler, director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., at firstname.lastname@example.org .