By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The reaction to last week’s House passage of the farm bill was swift and plentiful from nearly every organization affected, and lawmakers. Most voiced concern, while others were simply outraged.
Much of the concern comes from groups connected to food programs and legislators who have worked on this bill for the better part of two years. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said the House Republicans’ decision to ignore the will of the more than 500 organizations with a stake in the farm bill – setting the stage for draconian cuts to nutrition programs and eliminating future farm bills altogether – would be laughable if it wasn’t true.
“This was not the only option. Following the House failure to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan, five-year farm bill, I repeatedly expressed a willingness to work with the Majority on a path forward,” he said.
“I firmly believed that if we could find a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the House farm bill debate, we would be able to advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. Now all that is in question.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sees things differently. He said both food stamp and farm programs needed reform.
“The status quo is unacceptable, which is why I voted against most of the farm bills of the past two decades, and supported this one,” he said after the vote. “I’m pleased the House took a positive first step forward in providing some much-needed reforms to our farm programs today. Reforming our food stamp programs is also essential.”
Longtime rural advocacy group the National Grange (NG) offered support to the bill, with concerns. Legislative Director Grace Boatright said last Thursday even though the organization was happy the House finally passed a farm bill, it had mixed thoughts about splitting it from the nutrition title.
“This is a giant step in the right direction, but we’re still a long way from getting a full five-year farm bill,” she said. “We believe the Senate will not be very receptive to a farm bill without a nutrition title, which includes food stamps, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and school lunch programs.
“But more pressing is the issue of time. There are less than three weeks until Congress takes its August recess, making it increasingly more difficult for members to settle this issue before the Sept. 30 deadline.”
Many farm groups were voicing their displeasure with the process of the vote even before it happened. Illinois Corn Growers Assoc. President Paul Taylor said in a statement prior to passage his organization, while encouraging the Illinois Congressional delegation to vote for the bill, was opposed to splitting the farm bill into two pieces of legislation.
“Now that House leadership has moved forward with what we continue to believe is an incredibly shortsighted and self-interested strategy, we must accept the decision,” he said. “We oppose any effort that would bring permanent repeal of the 1949 law. The House’s inability to come to terms on this issue is the perfect example of why we must keep in place the 1949 law (see related article on page 1 for a definition).
“Our position should not be confused with agreement to the policies set forth in House plan. We are dismayed at the dysfunctional process that has delivered all of us to this point of deeply flawed legislation. We must begrudgingly concede that there is no other way to move the farm bill to conference unless the House approves the option set before them today. Our asking for ‘yes’ votes from the House today should in no way be construed as approval of the bill’s contents or the method by which it came to the floor.”
Ray Gaesser, an Iowa farmer who serves on the Iowa Soybean Assoc. board of directors and vice president of the American Soybean Assoc., said farmers work to raise food to feed people, so the nutrition element made sense to his organization.
“A unified bill would have had a better chance of passing and helping all Americans, both rural and urban, be successful in the future,” he said.
But farm organizations and legislators weren’t the only ones weighing in on the bill. Feeding America is one of the nation’s leading domestic hunger relief charities with a network of more than 200 food banks. The group issued a statement last week that noted its opposition to the splitting of the farm bill and how “removing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal nutrition programs from the farm bill ignores the reality that our nation’s food and agriculture policy must also address the needs of those who struggle to afford enough food for their families.”
Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America, said what matters most is ensuring federal anti-hunger programs are protected from funding cuts and harmful policy changes.
“We must continue to ensure that vulnerable, low-income Americans get the help they need,” he said. “As the farm bill reauthorization moves forward, we must not lose sight of the fact that millions of struggling families rely on SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program to put food on the table. Cuts to these programs would result in lost meals.”
Closer to home, Kentucky Assoc. of Food Banks (KAFB) Executive Director Tamara Sandberg said the network was quite concerned about efforts to break apart the farm bill and severing the longstanding link between farm and food programs.
“The fear is it’s going to weaken both programs: the important supports to farmers and the important supports to people who need nutrition assistance,” she said.
The KAFB works closely with farmers through a program called Farm to Food Banks, to bring quality foods to food banks throughout Kentucky while helping to support producers.