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Battle in House Over Cuts to Food Assistance in Farm Bill


This week the House of Representatives is set to vote on the Farm Bill, which would cut SNAP by $20.5 billion over 10 years. According to Feeding America, that is the equivalent of 8 billion meals or the hunger relief organization's entire operations for two and a half years. The White House has threatened to veto the bill based on cuts to the nutrition program, but Feeding America is urging citizens to contact their representatives to make their voices heard on the cuts, nevertheless.


On Monday, June 10, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the 2013 Farm Bill, which includes provisions on nutrition, insurance for farmers, conservation and international food aid, among others. The House of Representatives is expected to pass its own version before the July 4 recess.


Calling the farm bill "an economic disaster as well as a public health disaster," on Wednesday, June 12, Heidi Moore, U.S. finance and economics editor for The Guardian, published an op-ed linking the financial crisis, high unemployment and the rise in poverty in the U.S. to an increased demand for food stamps.


The Senate version of the bill would cut the food stamp budget by $4 billion over a decade, while the proposed House bill would cut it five times as much, with up to 2 million out of 48 million qualifying low-income people losing access to supplemental food assistance programs, meaning a loss of an average of $25 of monthly SNAP benefits for a family of four."


The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is leading efforts to engage the public in reaching out to legislators to call for reducing cuts in the SNAP program. Detailing more than seven affected supplemental nutrition programs, FRAC research points to the limits the bill places on the ability of states to coordinate SNAP with LIHEAP (heat and eat) payments as most detrimental to needy families that face the hard choice between paying for food or energy. The possible elimination of categorical eligibility, or automatic consideration for SNAP benefits for recepients of other federal social benefits programs like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grants of General Assistance programs, is also looming. 


The Senate also rejected a White House proposal to source food for the U.S. international food aid programs locally in the countries it serves.


According to EcoWatch, an environmental news service, there are at least six major economic and environmental reasons why the House bill is problematic for Americans:


- It has the potential to drastically increase crop insurance subsidies to cotton and peanut farmers.

- It retains an uneven insurance subsidy structure that favors wealthy farmers.

- Although the bill proposes overall cuts in this department, it extends by two more years the controversial direct payments program (which hands government money to farmers just for being farmers) to cotton farmers.

- It does not make public the names of those who receive crop insurance subsidies.

- It does not require farmers receiving insurance subsidies to protect wetlands and prevent soil erosion on their land.  



Another part of the House's Farm Bill with significant repercussions for the environment is the King Amendment, authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would "nullify states' rights to label genetically modified organisms.   A petition is circulating about this amendment on "Tell Congress: Don't Pass a Farm Bill that Lets Monsanto Wipe Out State GMO Labeling Laws!", and so far it has reached more than 163,000 signatures out of the 175,000 goal.



Here Rep Jim McGovern talks about the importance of SNAP: