By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow
For anyone interested in the food policy, and many people who aren’t, it has been difficult to avoid discussion of the farm bill over the last few months. This expensive and important piece of legislation has historically been passed every five years and regulates both farm and nutrition policy.
Last year, however, the farm bill was not voted on as it should have been. Stymied by election year politics, the bill was never brought forward for a vote in the House of Representatives, despite passage in the Senate. The result was a one year extension of the 2008 farm bill and plans to deal with the bill this year instead. The bill did come up for a vote in the House this year as planned, however, much to the shock of many observers, it was voted down. Struggling to reassert their leadership after this surprising defeat, Republican leaders in the House decided to reintroduce the bill with one notable difference; to ensure passage they removed the nutrition title (SNAP funding and other nutrition programs) from the bill.
This change has nutrition and farm groups deeply concerned. Since the 1970s, the farm bill has included both farm programs and nutrition programs. It is this pairing that has facilitated an alliance between Democrats and Republicans, urban and rural constituencies, to pass this important piece of legislation year after year. By separating the two parts of the bill, Republicans have won a short term victory—passage of a farm bill in the House—but likely face a more difficult struggle to reach agreement with a Democratically led Senate.
Consumer, nutrition and farm groups are all concerned about this move. Nutrition programs, especially SNAP (formerly food stamps), are an essential part of the social safety net, particularly in tough economic times. These programs have been under attack in recent years, and this move only heightens concern. Those who believe the government has a responsibility to assure its citizens can put food on the table should call their Congressmen, in both the Senate and the House, to urge them to push hard for continued nutrition spending and a final farm bill that adequately addresses hunger.