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24 Mar 2013 - Why SNAP Protects the Farm Bill from Disappearing

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a farmer in North Carolina who really took me to task for, as he put it, “. . .not doing a thorough job of reporting details of the Farm Bill currently being discussed on Capitol Hill.” I know where he is coming from and I also realize he cannot listen to every broadcast or read every column, but I do want to point out that for the past ten years I have been explaining to my listeners and readers, in detail, what makes up the Farm Bill and the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The point he made is that it should be called “The Food Stamp bill with some Farm Benefits” because the lion’s share of the Department of Agriculture budget does not go to benefit farmers, it has nothing to do with conservation, crop insurance, export promotion, research or all the other strictly agricultural missions carried out by USDA. That is the point I have been making for years.

Two-thirds of the U.S.D.A. budget goes to what was once called the Food Stamp Program, that today is called S.N.A.P., the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , and also some smaller nutrition programs for needy people. Two-thirds! It is a point I make over and over again when people criticize the Farm Program.

I also hear from farmers who say those programs should not be included in the USDA budget because they are welfare programs. But there is a very good reason they are part of the farm bill because if they weren’t, there would be no farm bill.

Farmers and ranchers, comprising less than 2% of the voting population, have a very small voice in Congress where the large majority of members represent urban communities, and that is where most of the S.N.A.P. recipients live. So having nutrition programs in the farm bill provides agriculture with leverage in getting what is needed to support America’s farmers and ranchers. Those urban Congressmen are willing to make trade-offs to get the nutrition programs their voters want and need and, in turn, are willing to vote for programs that benefit agricultural producers. It is called LEVERAGE!

Kansas State Agricultural economist Barry Flinchbaugh took it a step further. He said if nutrition programs weren’t in the ag budget, there would be no USDA. It would be broken into parts with conservation programs going to the EPA, food safety to Health & Human Services, forestry and land management to the Interior Department, export promotion to the Commerce Department and ultimately Abraham Lincoln’s “agency for the people” would disappear.

I appreciate the concern of my listener in North Carolina and I urge him to keep expressing his views. Meanwhile, I will continue to share what I have expressed in this column with my audience and, hopefully, working together we will create a better understanding of why it still is the “Farm Bill”.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.