The Farm Bill Leaves Hungry Families Behind
By Sarah Borron
The Farm Bill drafts coming out of both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee fail to address many problems in our broken food system. In the case of hunger, they make the problem worse. Despite having the word “farm” in its title, the vast majority of the bill’s budget goes towards nutrition programs, not agriculture. The Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides monthly financial assistance for poor families to spend on groceries. The Senate farm bill cuts SNAP by $4.5 billion over ten years, while the House bill calls for $16 billion in cuts.
SNAP is a proven “effective and efficient” program to alleviate hunger in America. During the economic crisis, SNAP rolls increased to record levels as more and more families needed the support of our social safety net. Forty-six million Americans currently receive SNAP benefits, primarily children and seniors, and, in 2010, SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty. SNAP stimulates our economy as recipients spend their dollars quickly, benefiting food producers, processors, and retailers. As the economy recovers, the money spent on SNAP will naturally decrease, as fewer people will need benefits.
Before coming to Food & Water Watch, I worked at a food bank where I interacted with people in need and the agencies that served them. For families, finding food is especially dire—hunger and food insecurity inhibits children from learning and contributes to health problems.
Despite cutting billions in benefits, both versions of the farm bill do make modest improvements to programs that increase low-income people’s access to healthy foods:
- Healthy Food Financing Initiative: $125 million to improve healthy food retail options in low-income neighborhoods (Senate)
- Hunger-Free Community Incentive Grants: $100 million to incentivize SNAP use for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets (Senate)
- Community Food Projects grants: $15 million (House) and $10 million (Senate), up from $5 million, to provide communities with grants to promote community food security
- SNAP and CSAs: SNAP benefits would be allowed to be used for community supported agriculture shares (House)
- SNAP and Farmers Markets: Pilot programs to use smartphone apps to allow SNAP benefits to be spent at farmers markets (Senate)
These programs provide valuable services to low-income communities and, in many cases, build local markets for farmers as well. Many SNAP participants, like many Americans, face challenges eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, so efforts like these to improve nutrition for SNAP participants are welcome. But making it easier to use SNAP at farmers markets won’t do much to help those that lose their SNAP benefits altogether, will it? No matter where we fall on the socio-economic ladder, all consumers deserve a fair Farm Bill and unless the cuts to SNAP are reversed, this Farm Bill is shaping up to be anything but fair to low-income consumers.
Sarah Borron is a food researcher for Food & Water Watch.