Inquirer Editorial: Farm bill shouldn't cut funds for food stamps

Canned goods at Philadelphia's Green Light Food Pantry.
Canned goods at Philadelphia's Green Light Food Pantry. (LUKE RAFFERTY/Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2013

Whom does Congress listen to? The farm bill is a clue. It is chock full of subsidies benefiting special interests, but cuts funding to provide food stamps for poor people.

The House this week began debating the bill, which over the next decade would cut $20 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Nearly two million people who rely on SNAP assistance to put food on the table would lose their benefits.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would make "unacceptable deep cuts" in the $80 billion-a-year program. The Senate last week passed a version of the farm bill, but with only $4 billion in food-stamp cuts. That, too, seems excessive. It would make more poor families vulnerable to hunger.

At least 47.7 million Americans get food stamps. The average benefit is $132 monthly. And despite unsubstantiated claims by critics to the contrary, the program has seen little waste or fraud.

The threatened budget cuts come amid a food crisis so grim that Americans in every county in the nation face the risk of hunger, according to a new study by Feeding America, a nonprofit that combats hunger. It said the demand for food assistance remains tremendous in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

More than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians receive food stamps, and more than 20 percent of children in the state are food-insecure, meaning they lack adequate sustenance on a regular basis.

Rather than trying to reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor, lawmakers should look to other options, such as a proposal by the Obama administration to overhaul the $1.4 billion international food aid program and reduce shipping costs.

While the effort to cut food stamps may draw the most attention, there are other controversial provisions in the farm bill. It would expand crop-insurance subsidies and price guarantees for the largest and most successful farmers while cutting nutrition and conservation programs. Missing from the omnibus bill, and its hundreds of amendments, is a proposal being supported by both industry and watchdog groups that would improve living conditions for egg-laying chickens.

Congress needs to cut through the special-interest politics that always hijack the process to pass a farm bill and give the highest priority to the interests of consumers, especially the poor.

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