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Published December 09, 2013, 09:36 AM

Rich farmers up, SNAP recipients down

As Congress continues to debate the farm bill, the discussion about how many billions of dollars to cut from the SNAP program is generating almost all of the attention.

By: Allen Erickson, Agweek

HILLSBORO, N.D. — As Congress continues to debate the farm bill, the discussion about how many billions of dollars to cut from the SNAP program is generating almost all of the attention. But there are a few other provisions of the bill that warrant some public scrutiny.

Interestingly, the legislation will continue to provide, and possibly increase, the subsidies that have been paying about 62 percent (on average) of the cost of crop insurance, even for millionaire farmers. In a few cases, it is likely that even multimillionaire or billionaire nonfarmers who are investors in agribusiness may be benefiting, although the bill carefully and conveniently protects the identities of all of those who are the recipients of this subsidy.

Notably, there is, reportedly, no limit on the amount of assistance that an individual farmer or agribusiness can receive.

Meanwhile, the bill apparently will include provisions to guarantee that farmers will get a minimum of 85 to 88 percent of some rather generous, historically high target prices on specific commodities. Certainly, it can be argued that taking the risk out of producing food is in the national interest, but a means test for these subsidies would seem reasonable.

At a time when reducing government spending seems to be a high priority, it’s hard to imagine why very wealthy individuals should be granted government help.

Nevertheless, every indication is that the farm bill will continue to provide a rather lucrative “safety net” for farmers, including those who are quite wealthy. At the same time, Congress seems intent on inflicting some rather deep cuts in nutritional assistance for the nation’s poorest citizens.

The SNAP program, which provides nutritional support for those in need, generally is considered to be the nation’s most successful anti-poverty program. With the country experiencing high unemployment, a slow recovery from a very deep recession, a three-decade trend of stagnating wages for the working class and a continuing increase in the number of Americans living in or near poverty, it seems like a particularly cruel time to legislate an increase in hunger and malnutrition among the least fortunate.

Editor’s note: This letter appeared in the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald Dec. 1.

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