KIMBERLY CHAN, ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT DIRECTOR
Last week, the Agricultural Act of 2014 was passed by the House and signed by President Obama. The 959-page Farm Bill outlines reforms of everything related to agriculture and the economy and will run on a budget of $956 billion per year over the next decade. While its passage is being lauded as a great bipartisan effort, the bill contains gaping loopholes that will end up having serious consequences for those at the bottom.
The bill’s major cuts come mostly from gauging food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Citing “abuses” and food stamp fraud, the Bill cuts its $80 billion yearly spending by 1%, and prohibits recruitment activities which “persuade an individual to apply for program benefits or that promote the program”.
However, the bill does not tighten the belt for all Americans. The bill’s expanded crop insurance (Agricultural Risk Coverage) program will be run by “18 companies that are paid $1.4 billion annually by the government” planning to pay 62% of farmers’ premiums. A privacy protection clause in the bill ensures that the premium recipients will not be disclosed.
These reforms play out as a massive contradiction. The government is funding private companies with taxpayer money while taking a chunk of a vital lifeline for 47 million SNAP-reliant Americans. For instance, food stamps cuts would force recipients to consume cheaper, pre-prepared frozen products or GMOs instead of fresh produce. Cuts to food stamps that harm nutrition essentially amounts to a subsidizing of poor diets for millions of Americans, further adding to national problems like obesity and heart disease.
Expanding the crop insurance program while cutting from food stamps is a move that blatantly favours large agricultural corporations, landowners and insurance companies. The generous funding for crop insurance has raised concerns of misuse of non-arable land by groups who can afford it in order to claim extra insurance subsidies. A blurred line between business and politics is also at play here – The Environmental Working Group reports that 23 Members of Congress or their family members benefited from $6 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidy payments between 1995 and 2011.
At the end of the day, the Farm Bill does little to close spending loopholes or reduce the wealth gap. Of the $40 billion in projected savings over ten years from ending direct payments, $27 billion will go right back into these insurance programs. The current congress is more than happy to claim a bipartisan “win” while leaving to the American people a deeply flawed bill.
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