The Farm Bill
Every five years, Congress takes up a Farm Bill reauthorization process. This is an important process for those concerned about hunger in America and, in particular, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). See our SNAP background page for the latest information on what's happening with SNAP and the Farm Bill in 2012.
In 2007 and 2008, RESULTS focused a great deal of time and effort on the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is an important piece of legislation that sets U.S agricultural in five or six year increments. America’s agricultural policy affects our food supply, the environment, hunger, conservation and international trade. Everyone in this country and millions around the world are affected in some way by U.S. agriculture. RESULTS’ work on the Farm Bill focused on two areas that impacts people living in poverty around the country — nutrition assistance and rural development.
Strengthen and Expand the Food Stamps and Other Nutrition Programs
In 2007, around 35 million people were “food insecure” in the U.S. and Food stamps were serving nearly 30 million people per month, half of them children. Despite this fact, the average food stamp benefit for an individual was only about $1 per meal. Those benefit amounts were inadequate to support a healthy diet. Food prices had seen a dramatic increase in the past few years, with basics like milk, eggs and bread seeing double digit inflationary increases. Plus, fruits and vegetables, necessities for healthy eating, are usually more expensive than less healthy foods. RESULTS supported increasing benefit amounts to reflect realistic food costs and nutritional needs for a healthy and nutritious diet.
RESULTS also worked to expand food stamps by eliminating unreasonable barriers to participation. In 2007, a person applying for Food stamps could not hold more than $2,000 in assets. This limit had not changed since 1985. Checking and savings accounts, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 529 college savings accounts were all considered assets when determining eligibility. People who would otherwise qualify for food assistance based on income were ineligible due to this restriction. RESULTS supported raising or eliminating of the asset limits for food stamps.
Ensure Adequate Resources for Healthy Rural Development
RESULTS also focused some of our efforts to support health rural development. Rural America still faces serious hardships. Decreasing populations, lack of services, increasing land prices have all contributed to a declining quality of life for America’s rural communities. Programs designed to address these issues have either been underfunded or have been ineffectual in making positive change. The Farm Bill provided a great opportunity to invest new resources and innovative policies to help rebuild America’s vast and mighty rural landscape.
To help pay for increases in both nutrition and rural development programs, RESULTS advocated for reform of the U.S. commodity payment. Designed originally to help struggling farmers survive, today’s commodity payment system spends billions of dollars each year that mostly go to the largest farms with the most income. Commodity payments can also foster dependence on subsidies and affect community growth and populations, inflate land prices, and discourage younger generations from taking up farming. They also promote overproduction of food that is later sold on the global market, lowers prices, and hurts poor farmers in developing countries.
RESULTS supported enacting meaningful reform to the commodity payment system so that vital resources could be redirected to the farmers that most need them, with the savings used to strengthen nutrition and rural development.
Outcome of RESULTS’ Farm Bill Campaign
Despite facing challenging funding issues, RESULTS and our allies helped enact a Farm Bill that did more for nutrition than most thought possible. When we started working on the Farm Bill in early 2007, many legislators said there was simply no money available to increase funding for nutrition programs. RESULTS and our allies did not take no for an answer. Months of citizen lobbying followed and when all was said and done in June 2008, the new Farm Bill not only increased funding for nutrition programs, it was the largest increase of any part of the Farm Bill.
Nutrition programs, including food stamps and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, received an increase of $10.4 billion over ten years. Also, while the asset limits in food stamps were not raised outright, they were “indexed” to inflation so the limits will automatically increase each year, allowing more people to qualify. The Food Stamp Program also got a name change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
There was also increased investment in rural development programs such as making broadband internet more accessible in rural areas, promoting microlending and small business investment, and investing in more rural infrastructure.
Unfortunately, Congress did not meaningfully reform the commodity payment system. Some small changes were made but the existing system was for the most part left in place. Advocates for commodity reform will be gearing up for when the Farm Bill comes up for renewal in 2012.