Saturday, July 14, 2012

Balancing on the Poor

by TIMOTHY COLLINS
Shame on the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee for slashing food and nutrition programs in its version of the 2012 Farm Bill.

According to The New York Times,  the House measure cuts $16.5 billion from the food stamp program,  part of $35 billion in overall cuts to the bill.The gap between the House and Senate versions is wide. The Senate cuts totaled $23 billion,  with close to a $4.5 billion reduction in the food stamp program.

That was bad enough. The House version amplifies the irresponsible Senate cuts,  creating the prospect of an ugly compromise once this measure is finally passed,  whether before or after the election.

We are living in terrible economic times for many. Food prices have increased and likely will increase further because of the drought. The numbers of people who have filed for and received  food stamps has been rising in the past decade. The program currently serves about 46 million Americans,  up from 19 million in 2002. President Obama’s budget proposal for 2013 approaches $4 trillion.

To put things in perspective,  the current $80-billion fiscal-year food stamp expenditure represents about .02 percent of the proposed new budget.

We have too often heard arguments that the poor and unemployed are lazy and need to take more responsibility for their lives. The U-3 unemployment rate is currently hovering above 8 percent,  while the U-6 is 15 percent. The actual unemployment rate is 22%--fully 1/5th of the country's workers do not have a job or are flipping burgers with masters degrees.

Meanwhile,  official poverty rates have soared to levels not seen in nearly 30 years.

Have people in this country really become that much lazier in the past decade? Or,  could it be that the country’s economy and job markets are no longer accessible to them? More importantly,  when will the workplace economy open up again for the millions of unemployed?
If current conditions — and yet another “jobless recovery” — continue,  the change may will be awhile in coming.

According to the Times,  Chicago-based Feeding America estimated that three million people would lose benefits if the House version stands. Even worse,  nearly 300, 000 children would be ineligible for the school lunch program.

Representative Frank D. Lucas,  Republican of Oklahoma and chair of the House Agriculture Committee,  called the House version “a balanced,  reform-minded,  fiscally responsible bill that underscores our commitment to production agriculture and rural America,  achieves real savings and improves program efficiency.”

Sir, the truth in these words is sure. This measure is balanced: on the backs of the poor.

In the rush for “reform,” fiscal responsibility, and efficiency, the program does save money. But here’s the unspoken truth: this Farm Bill would inflict real harm on real people who are blocked from full participation in American economic life.

A country is only as strong as its weakest link. Both the House and Senate versions attack that link. Shame is not a strong enough word for what is going on here. Let’s call it what it is: a cruel injustice to the poor that hurts us all.

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Top Ten Reasons to Reject the House's Farm Bill
by Scott Faber
 
The budget-busting farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee late Wednesday night is quite simply the worst piece of farm and food legislation in decades. The bill will feed fewer people, help fewer farmers, do less to promote healthy diets and weaken environmental protections–and it will cost far more than Congressional bean counters say.

Here are the TOP TEN reasons to reject the bill:
  • Cuts Nutrition Assistance – Hard economic times mean that more Americans than ever before depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) to get an adequate diet, and nearly half of them are kids. The House bill proposes to cut $16 billion in SNAP funding that low-income Americans rely on. More than 2 million Americans will lose benefits under the farm bill devised by the committee’s leaders, Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
  • Gives Big Farmers a Big Raise – The Lucas-Peterson farm bill would give every big subsidized grower a raise in the form of higher price guarantees for their crops–at a time when large commercial farms have average household incomes of more than $200,000 a year and net farm income has nearly doubled in recent years. The largest 10 percent of subsidized growers collect roughly three-fourths of federal farm subsidies, so the Lucas-Peterson farm bill will give mega-farms even more tax dollars to drive out small family farmers.
  • Expands Crop Insurance by $9.5 billion – Right now, farm businesses can get unlimited insurance subsidies. As a result, 26 of them collected more than $1 million each in 2011 and more than 10,000 growers collected more than $100,000 each. Rather than place reasonable limits on crop insurance, the Lucas-Peterson proposal actually expands insurance subsidies – at a cost of more than $9 billion! Reasonable reforms such as payment limits, means testing and administrative reforms–which are applied to SNAP but not crop insurance–could save taxpayers more than $20 billion.
  • Cuts Conservation Programs by $6 billion – Like the farm bill passed by the Senate, the Lucas-Peterson bill cuts conservation programs that assist farmers in all parts of the country and benefit consumers in the form of cleaner air and water. High commodity prices and unlimited insurance subsidies are encouraging farmers to plow up millions of acres of wetlands and grasslands to grow crops, but the bill cuts more than $3 billion from programs designed to protect and restore wildlife habitat.
  • Lacks Protections for Prairies – Chairman Lucas turned back a bipartisan proposal by Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) to expand to all states a provision temporarily reducing crop insurance subsidies when prairie land is converted to grow row crops. This “sodsaver” proposal would help offset the damage done by rising crop insurance subsidies and cuts to critical conservation programs.
  • Includes Anti-Environmental Riders – Reps. Lucas and Peterson included two riders that would gut common-sense rules that protect water quality and wildlife from agricultural pesticides. That’s despite the fact that more than 1,000 lakes and streams are already too polluted by pesticides to meet clean water standards. What’s more, the bill guts environmental protections on logging by short-circuiting environmental review and public involvement in “critical areas.”
  • Has Few Incentives for Healthy Diets – More than a third of Americans are obese, and consumers have said that supporting healthy diets should be the top priority for this farm bill. But the House bill would cut SNAP by $16 billion (as much as 20 percent of SNAP purchases go to buy fruits and vegetables) and does not include as many incentives as the Senate bill to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption by low-income consumers. What’s more, the bill omits proposals to expand access to fruits and vegetables and takes the “fresh” out of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program for school children.
  • Weakens Regulation of GMO Crops – Exempting GMO crops from environmental reviews and setting arbitrary deadlines on regulators will eviscerate already weak oversight over biotech crops by allowing the sale of foods that haven’t been approved or analyzed by USDA. Even industry groups such as the National Grain and Feed Association oppose this poorly designed provision.
  • Guts State Food and Farm Standards – Thomas Jefferson must be turning over in his grave. A last-minute amendment to prevent states from setting their own standards for farm and food production will do far more than block a California law that requires more humane treatment of egg-laying hens. This proposal will block any state from setting its own standards for how crops and livestock can be produced.
  • Repeals Organic Certification Program – The bill repeals a program that helps farmers certify that their crops meet organic standards–at a time when demand for organic food is soaring.