Opinion

America Needs a Farm Bill that Helps Farmers, Families, and Rural Communities

The impact of agriculture is critically important to the growth of the American economy but also is vital to the lives of every American. Our farming community, both local farmers and industrial farms, provide affordable healthy food for our citizens. According to the U.S. Census, our neediest families live in more than 20 million households in both rural and urban communities that are food insecure. That’s a remarkable point – food insecurity seems to be a developing world issue, not an issue for the world’s largest economy, but yet, it is. And while rural parts of the country makeup 97 percent of our nation’s land they actually only comprise 19.3 percent of the population — that’s close to 60 million people. As such, the Farm Bill’s reach exceeds the bounds of rural America but connects urban, rural, and suburban America.

In 2003, as a member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, I was selected by leadership to serve as a conferee to the 2003 Farm Bill. Bipartisan legislation that was signed into law by President George W. Bush. That bill was not perfect, but what policy solution is without flaws or its share of criticism? The important thing is we worked together to accomplish legislation that helped farmers, fed hungry families, and uplifted Rural communities.  The debate today is far different from when I served, and it is disappointingto watch the political wrangling that threatens to harm so many Americans.

In my view, the Ag Committee usually legislates in a bipartisan manner because of the significance of the policy areas it covers and the cross-functional impact. Unfortunately, the current version of H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2019, fails its title and importantly fails to help the least of these. What is even more disturbing is the lack of bipartisanship by the members themselves. In fact, in this current debate, the Democrats on the committee refused to vote on the GOP bill because of the deep cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the impact those cuts will have on families and children. On the other hand, the Republicans refuse to negotiate with Democrats to find a better way.

The proposals included in the current bill are detrimental to literally millions of Americans. The Food Research & Action Center said the bill “would take food out of the refrigerators and off the kitchen tables of households.” The bill suggests that SNAP recipients are lazy and would prefer a handout from the government rather than provide a living for their families. That rationale is unfounded, in fact, most individuals would prefer work and provide food for their families rather than receiving charity from the government or other charitable organizations – well-paying jobs and job training programs would be welcome. The fact of the matter is that a hungry community doesn’t make for a trainable workforce. Cutting the SNAP program by $20 million is not only a punitive measure on poor Americans it’s downright shameful.

Recipients of SNAP include seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and families with children – if these citizens are put at risk by cutting their only source to being food secure, it will only exacerbate their health and educational opportunities. It’s ultimately robbing Peter to pay Paul, and in the end we all lose.

Feeding our most vulnerable neighbors and moving the poor out of poverty should not be a partisan, regional, or racial issue. In fact, a review of FRAC’s State by State Profile of the Hungry and Poor reveals that these citizens are all races and live all over the country. The Agriculture Committee is challenged to rewrite the Farm Bill that achieves the goal of feeding the hungry and providing an opportunity to move people out poverty into well-paying jobs or developed training programs. One solution could be to extend the current Farm Bill, until cooler heads prevail.

Former Rep. Eva M. Clayton (D-N.C.) served on the Agriculture Committee, was a 2002 conferee, and was the director general at the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, Italy.

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