Farm Bill: Good And Bad

 

December 17, 2018



Somewhat lost amid all of the hoopla last week – the sentencing of President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, the Senate’s decisions regarding funding the Saudi war effort in Yemen, and locally recovery from winter storm Diego – was the Congressional passage of the federal farm bill. Like many comprehensive bills, the $900 billion farm bill, which will last for 10 years, contains some good and bad aspects.

The bill continues funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” Those who rely heavily upon food stamps are low-income people whose benefits depend on the number of people in their household and on how much monthly income is left after certain expenses are deducted. Clearly, there are people who take advantage of food stamps and it can be infuriating to watch people in the grocery line use food stamps and then go next door to buy a cartoon of cigarettes or engage in some other unhealthy behavior. But every program, no matter how well intentioned, has some who abuse it. The answer is not to eliminate the program, but to modify it to reduce abuse. This bill seems to be a step forward in addressing those issues by focusing on better management of SNAP allocations and encouraging recipients to purchase healthy foods.


The bill also allocates a relatively small amount of money – $435 million over 10 years – for an outreach program that will help develop a younger and more diverse group of farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average age of farmers and ranchers in America is 58. As farmers become older and retire, we will need a new generation of farmers to take their place. While the amount of money invested in this program is relatively small, it is a step towards preparing people to fulfill this vocation that is vital to our survival.

The negative aspects of the farm bill, however, may far outweigh the positive aspects. Most of the money is allocated to corporate welfare. According to the New York Times, the top 10 percent of the companies that receive commodity subsidies received 77 percent of the subsidies. The top 10 percent also received 68 percent of all crop insurance subsidies. As a result, the medium-sized and small farmers – the idyllic family farmer that we often see advertised on TV – receives just a paltry amount of government subsidies, even though they are the ones who need them the most.

Maybe the worst part of the farm bill is that it provides millions of dollars in subsidies to people who do not even live on farms. The bill allows the children and spouses of farmers, even if they live nowhere near the farm, to qualify for $125,000 in subsidy payments. Nephews, nieces and cousins also can receive these payments. According to the Environmental Working Group, nearly 18,000 Americans living in urban areas far from farms received more than $63 million in farm subsidies in 2015 and 2016.


This is an egregious waste of taxpayers’ money. There is no reason for the federal government to pay doctors, lawyers, accountants, computer programmers, teachers, etc. any money simply because they are related to people who own and work on farms.

The farm bill also cuts funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which teaches farmers’ proper land management techniques, such as crop rotation, that help prevent soil erosion and produce higher yields. The nutrition we receive is directly dependent upon the nutrients plants receive from the earth. According to various studies, however, our soil is being depleted of nutrients and the supposedly healthy fruits and vegetables we eat today offer far less nutritional value than they did for our grandparents years ago. The farm bill apparently does little to address that major concern.

Even though the farm bill is monstrous and comprehensive, there are some simple steps that can be taken to make it more efficient. The easiest is to repeal the subsidies to people who are not actively engaged in farming, the urbanites who receive subsidies because they are related to farmers. Second is to curtail the amount of money going to the largest corporations. Third is to provide more monetary incentives or assistance to farmers, particularly those who operate small and medium-sized farms, to implement best management practices that restore the nutrients in the soil.

All that’s at stake is the quality of food we eat and our health.

 
 

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