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The 2014 Farm Bill – The Good and the Bad

The Farm Bill has been in the news quite a bit over the past two weeks since it was finally moving after a very long stalemate.  On January 29th, the US House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill in a bipartisan vote of 251-166 and the US Senate followed last week by passing the bill in a bipartisan vote of 68-32. Last Friday, February 7th, President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law.  This law has a major impact on food policy in America, so we wanted to take a minute to explain what the Farm Bill is, and what was in the 2014 version that passed.
What is the Farm Bill and what is SNAP?
The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (aka Farm Bill) is a major piece of comprehensive legislation – what we call an omnibus bill – that is the main driver of agricultural and food policy in the country.  There are hundreds of programs that fall under the farm bill, including food and nutrition programs and farm subsidies. The Farm Bill is reauthorized by Congress about every five years.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP (food stamps) is the largest food and nutrition programs funded through the Farm Bill.  It currently serves more than 46 Million low-income Americans each year. One in seven people in the United States receive SNAP benefits, and many of those are working adults.  These families have to make impossible choices every day between buying medication, putting food on the table, or heating their house.  SNAP provides some financial relief to these families by providing assistance to buy food for their household.  SNAP has helped lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

2014 Farm Bill
The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and negotiations around passing a new Farm Bill have been stalled for a couple of years.  There has been a stalemate between the House and Senate in part over the proposed cuts to food programs.  The House had proposed almost $40 billion in cuts over 10 years while the Senate had proposed $4.1 billion in cuts over 10 years.  Click here to learn more about what the proposed cuts were in each original proposal.
But last week, Congress came to an agreement on the Farm Bill and it has quickly moved through both the House and Senate, thus ending the stalemate. We wanted to take a minute to explain how the bill, as passed by both the House and Senate, impacts hunger in America – both the good and the bad.

The good:
•    $205 million in increased funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) program, which provides food to food banks
•    $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which works to increase access to healthy, affordable food in communities that currently lack these options
•    $200 million for a pilot project to train SNAP recipients for jobs

The bad:
•    SNAP is cut by $8.6 billion over 10 years by raising the amount for ‘Heat and Eat’ eligibility. This will result in 232,000 Washington households will experience a drop in benefits (up to $90 per month).

The good pieces are definitely something to be happy about.  Additional support for TEFAP will help people who access emergency food through food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens.  And our own Representative Suzan DelBene, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, worked hard to expand the pilots we have done in Washington for positive employment and training strategies like those utilized by the Seattle Jobs Initiative.  These are all positive things that will help fight hunger in our country.

But the damage done by the cuts to SNAP outweighs the positive steps made.  The goal of SNAP is to increase food security and access to a healthy diet for low-income households.  Such a dramatic reduction in benefits will work against these goals and more families will experience food insecurity.

Don’t Forget to Look on the Bright Side
While it is terrible to see the cuts to the SNAP program, it is also important to recognize that it could have been worse.  The cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill harm the most vulnerable members of our communities.  The Institute of Medicine released a report last year showing that SNAP benefits already don’t provide enough for families to purchase a healthy diet throughout the month.  These cuts will put families in an even worse situation.

However, families would have experienced even more hardship if the original House proposal would have passed with almost $40 billion in cuts. These proposed cuts included restricting Categorical Eligibility, which would have forced Washington to restore the asset and vehicle limits and drop gross income eligibility back to 130% of the federal poverty level. In addition, there was no elimination of waivers for the Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, or “ABAWDs”

What can you do?
The Farm Bill has been signed by the President so unfortunately the cuts to SNAP will be happening.  So unfortunately, it looks like the bill will pass as-is and the cuts to SNAP will be happening. But, when one door closes, we look at what windows we might be able to open.
The first thing to remember is that the Farm Bill is reauthorized about every five years.  So, we will be back and ready to talk about SNAP and other food and nutrition programs when the Farm Bill comes up again.

In addition, the Washington State legislature is still in session and will soon begin discussion the potential supplemental budget.  There are several state-funded programs that help low-income families who are experiencing food insecurity.

State Food Assistance Program (SFA)
Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP)
Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP)

You can learn about these programs by clicking on the links above, and then talk to your state legislators about the importance of funding them.

Tags: Farm Bill   SNAP   

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