Congress’ failure to pass a Farm Bill leaves recipients with no benefits after Oct. 31
By Pam O’Dell
Halloween may be a lot scarier for the 20 percent of Georgians who experience food insecurity.
A Nov. 1 reduction in benefits, and the uncertainty as to whether the federally funded program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be funded at all beyond October, is frightening prospect to low income people and those that serve them.
According to the USDA, 1,770 children living in Pickens County are in the care of parents who often don’t know where the family’s next meal is coming from. Those parents rely on various government food programs all of which have been formally discontinued as of today (Oct. 1) due to Congress’ failure to pass a Farm Bill by the September 30 deadline.
Food Stamp reduction
Beginning Nov. 1, all SNAP recipients will experience a decrease in benefits of approximately $11 per month, per person. As mandated by federal law, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits is scheduled to end on that date.
Discontinued funding of SNAP and other agricultural programs
Congress has not passed a Farm Bill since 2008. The Farm Bill traditionally addresses farm subsidies, food supplement programs and farming-related environmental conservation programs.
Last June, the Senate passed a moderate bill which cut $4 billion from supplemental food programs. The House refused to consider the bill, preferring a far deeper cut.
Last week, the House passed an unprecedented version of the bill which cut $40 billion from food supplement programs and, for the first time in history, separated the farm subsidy portion from the food supplement portion.
Popular speculation remains that House leadership took this drastic measure in order to win the votes of Republican moderates opposed to the food supplement cuts in the Farm Bill.
The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (HR3102)
The food supplement portion of the Farm Bill passed the House with a vote of 216-208. HR3102 eliminates state waivers used during periods of high unemployment when no job training is available. Georgia has such a waiver.
As a result, Melissa Johnson of the Georgia Budget and Policy Center (GBPC) approximates that 168,000 Georgians will not be allowed to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months every three years no matter how diligently they search for a job. Johnson believes the claim made by proponents of the bill that it entails a new push for work requirements is erroneous because SNAP already has work requirements.
According to GBPC, 75 percent of Georgia SNAP households have at least one person who worked in the preceding 12 months.
Johnson notes, “The sad truth is these workers didn’t make enough money to provide for their basic needs. That may be due to low wages, loss of a job or a combination of the two.”
House leaders point to the significant enrollment increase in the SNAP program. Many refer to the program as ‘bloated.’
The SNAP program had 54 million enrollees in 2007. By 2009, enrollment had increased to 60 million. It currently has over 47 million enrolled. Proponents of the program point to the Great Recession, not loose eligibility requirements, as reason for the increase.
SNAP enrollment climbed during the recession but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that program enrollment will shrink back to 2007 levels by 2015.
Other HR 3102 provisions
Other provisions in the bill include:
• New exclusions for citizens with specific felony convictions (such as murder and sexual abuse). Georgia already excludes drug felons from the program.
• A provision which allows only seniors to benefit from the Commodities Assistance Program
• A requirement that 50 percent of farmers’ market program funds be spent on seniors
Senate leaders referred to the bill as being ‘dead on arrival’- a common phrase used to describe bills originating in the House facing a Democrat-controlled (and increasingly impatient) Senate.
The Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (HR 2642)
What is commonly referred to as the ‘Big Ag Bill’ (the agricultural subsidies portion of the original Farm Bill) passed the House 217-210 without the blessing of fiscal conservatives.
A Taxpayers for Common Sense website credits the bill with “spending drastically more than either the comparable portions of the President’s FY14 budget request or Rep. Paul Ryan’s FY14 budget (which called for $38 billion and $31 billion in savings, respectively).”
Scott Faber, senior vice president of Environmental Working Group, (EWG) a national environmental advocacy organization specializing in farm issues, in a piece entitled: “Worst. Farm Bill. Ever.” opines: Farm income has never been higher. The federal deficit has never been deeper. So why are House Republicans celebrating passage of a “farm-only” farm bill that includes the most generous farm subsidies in history?
Calling the bill the “most fiscally irresponsible farm bill ever,” Faber notes that “much of the (meager) savings predicted by the Congressional Budget Office come from gutting conservation programs, not reining in subsidies.”
Faber credits a “last-minute change to the farm bill” (which 62 Republicans had previously rejected) with causing such subsidies to “last forever.”
Faber credits the bill with “increasing government-backed insurance subsidies by nearly $10 billion.”
Absent ARRA funding, the SNAP program (along with several other food supplement programs such as the school lunch program, WIC, and the Food Commodities Program would have disappeared literally ‘over night.’
The ‘stimulus’ money provided a stop gap measure which keeps the food cupboards of the nation’s poor full for 30 more days.
Twelve percent of the residents in Pickens County are dependent on SNAP and other supplement programs.
O’Dell provides news on state government through, The O’Dell Report in newspapers in North Georgia and her blog, odellreport.com. She can be contacted at pamodellreport@ gmail.com