Even though many people may not be particularly interested in the Farm Bill pending in the U.S. Congress, it is a very important matter that deserves the attention of all citizens.
Robert Gronski, the policy coordinator for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, explains: “The Farm Bill has a profound impact on farming and nutrition. Three key things the multi-faced bill provides are: a safety net for farmers, incentives for conservation practices, and food assistance for low-income families” (Sojournersmagazine, August 2012).
I didn’t realize until I read Gronski’s article that “nearly 80 percent of the bill’s roughly $100 billion a year in spending goes to the food-assistance category, most notably to food stamps—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], which now helps feed 46 million people in the U.S.”
Some Congresspersons, though, want to cut the funding of the farm bill, especially the amount earmarked for SNAP. Why was I not surprised to hear that?
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has refused to pass the bill, although the Senate passed it back in June. Earlier this month, soon after Representative Paul Ryan was named as Romney’s choice for the Vice-President nomination, the President was in Iowa, and he chided Rep. Ryan for failing to vote for the farm bill.
On the Friday after the primary election, Claire McCaskill, U.S. Senator from Missouri, and U.S. Representative Todd Akin, who is seeking her Senate seat in November, met in Jefferson City where they both spoke to the Missouri Farm Bureau. When Rep. Akin was asked by a farmer why he has opposed the farm bill, which he also did not vote for in 2002 or 2007, he explained that the majority of the spending in the legislation goes to food stamps and other entitlement programs.
The current farm bill ends on September 30, and the House will likely not approve a new one before then. Many Representatives, such as Rep. Akin and especially those affiliated with the Tea Party, insist on substantial cuts to SNAP, even though that would deprive many people of necessary nutrition.
As do most conservative Republicans, Rep. Akins, who is a seminary graduate and an active churchman, says that it is up to individuals and churches to help the poor, not the government. But I wonder, would it even be possible for individuals and churches to do all that is necessary for all those in need?
For example, consider my home county, Worth County, Missouri, with a population of 2,150. (Yes, it’s a very small county.) There are now about 350 people in the county living below the poverty line. I assume that most of those get help from SNAP (food stamps). If the farm bill is not passed, or drastically cut as most Republicans seem to wish, will the churches of Worth County and other people of good will have the means to step in and provide assistance to those who need it?
Since it is such an important piece of legislation, affecting so many farmers and especially low-income people all across the nation, shouldn’t those of us who live in this country contact our Representatives and urge them to for vote the Farm Bill?