Farm Bill Separation Meaningless Without Real Reform: Congress Must Reform Food Stamp Program

On June 20, 2013, something rather monumental happened: The House defeated the trillion-dollar food stamp and farm bill by a vote of 195 to 234.  Among the 234 in opposition were 62 Republicans, many of whom wanted the farm bill title to be considered separately from the food stamp title.

This was a decisive victory.

Had the bill passed, as the$955 billion Senate “farm” bill did, a compromise version would have likely landed on President Obama’s desk for signature.  Of course, he would have been eager to sign all this food stamp spending into law; food stamp participation has already doubled during his presidency, reaching over $80 billion a year in 2012.  After all, as Dan Holler noted, Mr. Obama considers food stamps an economic stimulus; but thinking of food stamps as an economic stimulus could not be further from the truth.   Money spent on the food stamp program comes from one of two places: taxpayers’ wallets or massive deficit spending.

Now that the so-called farm bill has been defeated, it is absolutely essential that the food stamp program undergo major reform. 

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Something Revolutionary: Break Up the Farm Bill and Food Stamp Legislation

It is amazing what a difference a year makes!  Many people are now calling for what Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) called for in August of 2012 (sub. req’d):

For decades, an unholy Washington alliance—between rural lawmakers and their urban and suburban colleagues—has caused exponential growth in spending by combining farm policy and food stamps in one huge legislative package.

It is time to have a farm-only farm bill, and move other policies separately.

This common sense reform is beginning to resonate with people in politics, in the media, and across America.

Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made the same suggestion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

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Conservatives Must Reject False Choice on Farm Bill

“What is truly scary – what is truly risky – is if we do nothing.  If we let this moment pass – if we keep the system the way it is right now … The status quo is not working.” – Pres. Barack Obama, August 11, 2009

1,410 days later, some House Republicans are adopting the very same logic to sell their massive $940 billion food stamp and farm bill to skeptical conservatives.  In their mind, a vote against a bill that locks in Pres. Obama’s record food stamp spending is a vote for the status quo.

Conservatives rightly rejected Pres. Obama’s false choice in 2009.  Everyone recognized then that the health care system was in desperate need of reform, but conservatives understood Obamacare was not the answer.  Similarly, many recognize our nation’s current agriculture and nutrition programs are in desperate need of reform, but the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947) is not the solution.

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Farm Bill, Food Stamps, It’s Time To Go Your Separate Ways

The Heritage Foundation explains that the number of Americans on food stamps is at historic highs.  At no other time in our nation’s history has one in seven Americans received food stamps.  This high food stamp participation costs American taxpayers nearly $80 billion per year.

Strangely, this spending is authorized by the so-called “farm bill,” 80 percent of which is for food stamps.  It would be more aptly named the Food Stamp Bill.

Many who want to maintain the farm and food stamp bill status quo erroneously argue that Congress shouldn’t touch food stamp spending at all.  In fact, some argue the food stamp program is actually a form of economic stimulus!  Heritage explains that that argument is complete nonsense:

First, food stamps are intended to serve as a temporary safety net for those who face economic hardship, not as an economic stimulus. To justify food stamps as a stimulus to raise government revenue ignores the long-term economic consequences of welfare spending.

Not only can high debt from increased spending reduce opportunity, but welfare spending itself can impose substantial non-economic costs: discouraging work, rewarding government dependence, and eroding personal dignity.

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Woonsocket’s Government-Dependent Existence

In a 3,500-word piece, the Washington Post’s Elia Salow explains how the Rhode Island town of Woonsocket experiences a “monthly boom-and-bust cycle” thanks to a growing dependency on food stamps.  One-third of the town’s population – 13,752 – receive food stamps:

The economy of Woonsocket was about to stir to life. Delivery trucks were moving down river roads, and stores were extending their hours. The bus company was warning riders to anticipate “heavy traffic.” A community bank, soon to experience a surge in deposits, was rolling a message across its electronic marquee on the night of Feb. 28: “Happy shopping! Enjoy the 1st.” 

In the heart of downtown, Miguel Pichardo, 53, watched three trucks jockey for position at the loading dock of his family-run International Meat Market. For most of the month, his business operated as a humble milk-and-eggs corner store, but now 3,000 pounds of product were scheduled for delivery in the next few hours. He wiped the front counter and smoothed the edges of a sign posted near his register. “Yes! We take Food Stamps, SNAP, EBT!” 

“Today, we fill the store up with everything,” he said. “Tomorrow, we sell it all.” 

At precisely one second after midnight, on March 1, Woonsocket would experience its monthly financial windfall — nearly $2 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Federal money would be electronically transferred to the broke residents of a nearly bankrupt town, where it would flow first into grocery stores and then on to food companies, employees and banks, beginning the monthly cycle that has helped Woonsocket survive.

It is a commentary on both the state of the American economy and the level of dependency caused by the government’s growing entitlement regime.  The article continues:

Pichardo catered his store to the unique shopping rhythms of Rhode Island, where so much about the food industry revolved around the 1st. 

[…] 

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