Here we are at the end of the year and Congress still has not acted on a new farm bill. This is truly unacceptable.
Draconian cuts to food stamps being pushed by Republicans are worrisome for millions who depend on that help, but the best they can hope for is the much more lenient trim recommended by Democrats.
Lawmakers say they’re close to a deal but, if so, they’d better check their calendars. The current measure expires Tuesday.
The House and Senate have two visions of a new farm bill. They have reached agreement on expanding crop insurance for farmers, but those living in poverty face reduced help from the food stamp program.
Cuts to what is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program began last month, after a temporary increase in the allotment approved in 2009 as part of the federal economic stimulus package was allowed to expire.
That reduction, perhaps $9 a week for a family of four, doesn’t sound like much, but is crippling for those still struggling with the effects of the Great Recession. Last month’s cuts have brought added stress to food pantries as families turn to charities to make up the difference.
More cuts are ahead. The House-proposed farm bill will cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years; the Senate proposal would cut $4.5 billion, still a major blow.
There is a modicum of hope that the cuts will be closer to the low end. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., who heads the House Agriculture Committee, say they have made significant gains on a compromise that will pass both houses.
If Congress fails to pass a farm bill soon after returning from the holiday recess, more than food stamp recipients will be hurt. Milk prices would soar because the government would have to follow a 1949 farm law that would force the federal government to buy milk at hugely inflated prices. The impact would quickly flow downhill to the consumer.
The question is whether Congress, which has done little to nothing this session, can actually pull off an agreement on a divisive piece of legislation, but one that affects virtually every American – especially the poor.
Maybe we are overfilled with the holiday spirit, but we remain hopeful that Congress can plot a reasonable path forward.