October 28, 2013

Food Fight in the Farm Bill

Always civil and tolerant Democrats say Republicans want people to starve.

House and Senate negotiators will sit down this week to hammer out details for a new farm bill, and then the wheeling and dealing will kick into high gear. Special interest groups are already lining up to protect their piece of the pie, hoping to ensure continued subsidies for sugar, corn and other favored products. The scope of the final bill will be huge, affecting some 16 million jobs in food service, production, trade and conservation.

Perhaps the most controversial element of the package will be funding for food stamps – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which, thanks to a loosening of eligibility provisions, has ballooned into a massive program in which one in seven Americans now take part. The House split food stamps from the rest of the farm bill, but, naturally, Democrats oppose this effort because serving their carefully crafted constituent groups is far easier in a massive bill. The Senate proposed trimming a mere $4 billion over 10 years from SNAP, while the House wants to cut $40 billion over that same decade. Total farm bill spending runs about $97 billion a year and roughly 80% is on food stamps.

According to The New York Times, “Food banks and other advocates are hoping to stop huge cuts to the food stamp program that they say will cause millions of people to go hungry.” And Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) warned, “The farm bill should not be making people hungry.”

However, as we noted recently, food stamps don’t always combat hunger, and, worse, SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse. Democrats would call that a feature, not a bug. Along that vein, the South Dakota Argus Leader newspaper is currently pursuing a Freedom of Information request to learn just how much the government is reimbursing retailers that take part in the food stamp program. The government claims that is privileged information. After all, just what business is it of ours how our tax dollars are spent?

Fraud and abuse aside, suffice it to say that spending $93 billion this year instead of $97 billion is hardly a case of Republicans starving the poor.

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