Chronicle Editorial

Few winners, many losers with new Farm Bill

 

     It was a two-year grapple, a tooth-and-nail fight, but in the end the Farm Bill turned out to be one of the most standard pieces of legislation we could come to expect.

     Congress finally came to terms on a deal that set in place the next five years of food and farming policy in America. The huge $1 trillion bill has been a point of contention for federal lawmakers during the past several years, but the end result seemed marked with very few changes. Wealthy farmers retained large crop subsides for insurance, while the nation’s food stamp program received funding cuts. All together, the bill cut $17 billion from the federal budget for the next decade.

     It’s nice to see the government develop policy that lowers spending, but lawmakers could have gone further with cuts to the crop insurance subsidy program. According to reports, the government pays 18 companies $1.4 billion each year to administer the program and sell policies to farmers. The funding covers 62 percent of farmers’ policies, but it remained unchanged in the new Farm Bill. Additionally, Congress struck down a longtime provision that allowed the U.S. Agriculture Department to renegotiate payments to those 18 companies during the Farm Bill’s five-year lifetime. No longer will the government be able to save money by re-evaluating the terms of insurance subsidies each year.

     It appeared lawmakers caved to special interests like they so commonly do. Though bipartisan support for the Farm Bill was strong, so too was dissent from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Iowa’s own Chuck Grassley joined 31 other senators in voting against the bill and was very vocal with his criticism. Grassley suggested implementing a provision that placed a hard cap on farm payments and wanted to better define who could receive them. He pointed out that 10 percent of the country’s wealthiest farmers received 70 percent of the benefit from the farm program, but his cries fell upon deaf ears. Congress missed an opportunity to help smaller-sized farms and also ignored young farmers, which is the exact opposite effect this bill is suppose to achieve.

     Disadvantaged farmers might have seen very little benefit from the new Farm Bill, but neither did disadvantaged Americans reliant on the federal food stamp program. Anti-hunger advocates admonished an $8 billion cut in food stamps that will take place throughout the next decade. They claim upwards of 850,000 households will be affected by the cuts, which will only exacerbate the mounting hunger problems and nutritional needs of an ever-growing segment of the population.

     The farm bill was developed decades ago to provide stability and assistance to those in need. However, it’s transformed into a massive piece of legislation that overwhelmingly benefits some of the wealthiest sectors of the agriculture industry. Reforming old laws and trimming the fat is always necessary to keep up with changing times, but Congress failed to wield an objective knife when they sliced portions of this latest bill. A few food stamp loopholes were closed and some controversial farm subsidy programs were ended, but overall the bill was a huge victory for only a small segment of benefactors.