Food Stamp Advocates Outraged Over Farm Bill

Jul 15, 2013
Originally published on July 12, 2013 2:45 pm

Republicans have passed a farm bill through the House of Representatives that strips any provisions for food stamps or food banks, in an effort to win conservative votes.

This is the first time the food stamp program has not been included on the farm bill since 1973.

What does this mean for low-income people who depend on food stamps and food banks?


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Well, more passionate political debate, this time in Washington. Anti-hunger advocates are outraged after House Republicans yesterday pushed through a dramatically pared-back farm bill, one that strips out the federal food stamp program. Now we should be clear, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as it's called, still exists, but it's been decoupled from the Farm Bill, and advocates worry that might make it harder to pass food stamp funding in the future.

Yesterday's debate in the House was heated, to say the least. Here's Representative Corrine Brown of Florida.

REPRESENTATIVE CORRINE BROWN: This is a sad day in the House of Representatives. I want you to know that. This is the people's house, and to separate the farm bill from the elderly, from the children, this is a shame. Mitt Romney was right; you all do not care about the 47 percent. Shame on you.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Republicans also shouted protests, but the bill eventually passed the House by a 216 to 208 vote. Now there's still a Senate version that keeps the food stamps in the farm bill, but that's unlikely to get anywhere in the House, so we are back at an impasse.

Frank Morris, reporter for Harvest Public Media, and HERE AND NOW contributing network station KCUR in Kansas City, joins us. Frank, welcome, but let's explain. What exactly happen yesterday? Why did Republicans want to remove food stamps from the farm bill?

FRANK MORRIS: Well, after the bill failed, the Farm Bill failed, almost an unprecedented way a month ago, the Republicans decided to move to the right rather than to try to pick up a dozen and a half Democrats or so. And so they split the nutrition title out and moved it forward that way.

CHAKRABARTI: OK, well, I understand that the farm - the food stamp program was 80 percent of the original farm bill's costs. So how big of a deal is this for the SNAP program?

MORRIS: Oh, it's a very big deal for the SNAP, or it's a big deal for ag programs, too, but yeah, 80 percent of the cost, roughly $750 billion over 10 years, the food stamps programs had been expanding at the - as the recession started a little while, or in 2008. So yeah, splitting it off is huge for food stamps.

It's also, though, a very big development in this urban-rural coalition that's been together for five decades passing farm legislation.

CHAKRABARTI: Right, so explain to us a little bit more about that urban-rural coalition. It is the thing that led to the farm bill, including food stamps in it in the first place.

MORRIS: Right, yeah, 50 years ago. In 1973, Bob Dole and George McGovern got together and formed this coalition that is mutually beneficial to urban constituencies and rural constituencies. You know, rural America has been shrinking steadily for 100 years. There is only something like 40 congressional districts that really represent rural areas these days.

And so there - the farm bill isn't just - you know, the farm part, the agriculture titles in the farm bill aren't just for agriculture, they're also for conservation of rural areas and rural development, stuff like that. So these are important programs combating rural poverty in rural areas.

And so yeah, this was put together as kind of an expedient way to get support for two programs that might not be, might not be that popular on their own.

CHAKRABARTI: So I'm reading about the cost savings that are supposed to be included with this house version of this new farm bill, about $20 billion by consolidating or cutting numerous farm subsidy programs. Is that one of the reasons why the nation's largest farm lobby was actually calling on lawmakers not to split the bill? They're not happy with this, either.

MORRIS: You know, I don't think that that $20 billion is the reason they were - I mean, I don't know, but I think they didn't like the idea. You know, that was going to be a - cutting direct payments to farmers or to farmland owners, this is about a $5 billion program a year. That was going to happen no matter what. That's in the Senate bill, too.

This idea, though, of decoupling the food stamp, the nutrition assistance from the farm programs, I think that is a frightening prospect to a lot of people, again, who just - you just look at the numbers, and you see the rural population declining, and it is a - you know, there's a loss of clout there.

So while farmers are not particularly - farmers themselves are not particularly worried about this kind of stuff now because the markets have been so strong, if the markets turn south on farmers, they're going to be - you know, the implications for rural America is - are as significant as the ones to the nutrition programs.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Frank Morris is a reporter for Harvest Public Media and HERE AND NOW contributing network station KCUR in Kansas City. Frank, thank you.

MORRIS: Thank you, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, coming up next, how come some planes have three-point seatbelts, and others don't?


That story coming up. We're back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.