Already a year behind schedule, the new farm bill is being described as a slow-moving freight train. The main area of contention seems to be funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. This program alone accounts for three-fourths of the total farm bill package of $500 billion over five years. The food stamp program costs the taxpayers roughly $75 billion annually. The U.S. Senate had voted in their version of the new bill to cut the food stamp program by $4.5 billion over a period of ten years. The House version of the new bill wanted to cut food stamps by $40 billion over the same ten-year period, or about $4 billion per year. Also, the House’s bill wants to end benefits for about 10% of recipients in 2014 and tighten the eligibility of those coming into the program.
The current farm bill, known as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, passed Congress in 2008. The bill called for annual spending of $100 billion by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). With almost 80% of these funds allocated for food stamps and other nutrition programs, President Bush vetoed the bill saying it was too costly; however, Congress was able to override his veto and the bill became law.
While writing the new farm bill in 2012, Congress proposed many ways to cut down the overall cost of the 2008 bill. These included having stricter eligibility standards for food stamps and moving away from direct payments to farmers. Still the largest portion remained the food stamp and nutrition programs, with a cost of $768.2 billion over a ten-year period. This bill failed to pass, causing Congress to extend the 2008 bill until September 30, 2013.
It is very important to our nation that Congress is able to work together and pass a new farm bill. Even though the SNAP program takes up the lion’s share of the farm bill and needs work, other features of the bill, such as the crop insurance program for farmers need to be expanded. Federal crop insurance programs are important in ensuring we have an adequate food supply in our country. The bill that is in the works has proposed a new insurance program for dairy producers, one that could cut the overall program’s cost by eliminating some dairy subsidies and price supports. This would greatly benefit farmers while helping to ensure our nation has an adequate food supply. In Missouri, the House Agriculture Policy Committee has been working during interim on drafting legislation that would help keep dairy producers and the dairy industry in our state. This legislation hinges on the passing of a new farm bill and deals primarily with the marginal insurance programs.