Tell Congress: Pass a Farm Bill for Farmers & Healthy Food NOW!

Photo: USDA

From farm to fork, our food system should be something we are proud of, one that supports farmers, makes healthy food available for everyone, and protects the environment we all depend upon. The farm bill—a large, multifaceted piece of legislation due to be renewed by Congress this year—offers a chance to achieve such a food system. However, on September 30, 2018, Congress allowed the farm bill to expire, leaving a variety of effective programs that serve farmers, consumers, and communities with no funding and unable to operate.

Now, critical conservation programs that protect our soil and water must turn eager farmers away. And proven initiatives that help food producers connect with customers in local and regional markets no longer exist. But though they failed to meet their own deadline, Congress can still act quickly to put a strong new farm bill in place as soon as possible.

Help us tell them it’s past time to pass a strong new farm bill. Call your senators and representative today!

  • For the Senate: Dial 888-382-2509, and you’ll hear a message from UCS with short talking points, and then be connected to your senator’s office.
  • For the House: Dial (202) 224-3121, and the switchboard will connect you with the appropriate office. You may use the sample talking points below. And please let us know that you called—your report will help us track how offices are responding.

Background:

With nearly $1 trillion in investments, the bill affects all parts of our food system: what farmers grow and how they grow it, the price of food and who can afford it, and more, with huge implications for our health, our economy, social justice, and the environment. For the last year, with support from experts and food and farm allies, we’ve been working to make sure the next farm bill offers smart incentives and real support for farmers in the long-term – while also strengthening proven programs that reduce hunger and increase access to nutritious foods.

But even before Congress failed to meet its own deadline to pass a new farm bill by September 30, the shape of the legislation was in question, with drastically different visions offered by the House and Senate, and critically important programs at risk.

In June 2018, the House of Representatives passed a farm bill proposal—H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018—that contains some very troubling provisions. Chief among them is an attack on the largest budget item in the farm bill: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which helps individuals and families put food on their tables in hard times. In 2016, the program lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty and provided many with temporary assistance between jobs or during times of crisis. Research shows that SNAP works as an economic stimulus during downturns, but H.R. 2 relies on ideology, not science, and includes unnecessary new work requirements that would make it harder for millions of SNAP participants to feed their families.

The partisan House proposal was so problematic for farmers, the environment, and eaters, that UCS and our partners and allies opposed it. So many UCS supporters and other advocates raised the alarm about H.R. 2 that the bill failed to pass on a first vote and just barely squeaked through on a strictly partisan second vote, 213-211.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed its own, bipartisan farm bill proposal, S. 3042. The Senate bill maintains the existing structure of SNAP, while making new investments to make nutritious food more accessible, open new opportunities for farmers and struggling rural economies, and protect the environment we all depend on. In particular, S. 3042 prioritizes several of the local food programs UCS and our supporters have championed, creating an innovative new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) with provisions to connect producers to consumers, increase profits for farmers, enable more people to afford fresh, nutritious food, and keep food dollars in rural communities.

Negotiators from the House and Senate missed their September 30 deadline to agree on a compromise bill, but they are still negotiating behind closed doors. As soon as possible, the members of the farm bill conference committee must agree to prioritize proven, science-based policies and programs that will alleviate hunger, improve nutrition, sustain our land, soil, and water, and help farmers prosper. The compromise bill must then return to the House and Senate for final approval.

Take further action

Once you’ve called your members of Congress (see above), write a letter to the editor of a local paper to urge farm bill negotiators to pass a strong farm bill—one that prioritize SNAP, local food programs, and conservation programs—as soon as possible. Letters to the editor (LTEs) are a great way to raise the public profile of an issue and get a message out to the public. LTEs are short and to-the-point – around 200 words. Key points are below to help you get started, and you can learn more about how to write a successful letter to the editor here.

SNAP key points

  • H.R. 2, the farm bill proposal passed in the House in June, overhauls the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—by adding short-sighted and draconian new work requirements. H.R. 2 disregards the USDA’s own ample evidence of SNAP’s success and would effectively remove access to a critical safety net for many vulnerable people
  • Research shows that SNAP works. In 2016, the program lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty, many of whom are children. SNAP participation also reduces food insecurity rates for children and adults by up to 30 percent. (UCS Policy Brief)
  • H.R. 2 would add new work requirements for older participants and changes the way work requirements are enforced. Existing work requirements are already stringent, and these new proposals are likely to increase administrative costs, which now are exceptionally low – less than seven percent of all program expenses.
  • Because many workers turn to SNAP when they are between jobs, more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP, showing that the program overwhelmingly supports workers between jobs.
  • SNAP benefits also act as an economic stimulus to support food producers, manufacturers, and other industries. USDA models show that each $1 in SNAP benefits generates about $1.80 in economic activity.
  • Negotiators in the House and Senate failed to meet the September 30 deadline. But as they continue to meet behind closed doors, they must

Local FARMS Act Key Points

  • The Local Food and Regional Market Supply (Local FARMS) Act is a bipartisan proposal meant to strengthen local food systems and chip away at the 15.6 million US households that lack adequate access to healthy food while helping small and midsize farmers.
  • The Senate took on board various provisions of the Local FARMS Act, creating an innovative new program called the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which would connect producers to consumers, expanding access to nutritious food, and offering a much-needed boost to struggling rural economies.
  • By contrast, H.R. 2, passed by the House in June, failed to take on board the Local FARMS Act, missing an opportunity to create jobs, establish reliable revenue streams for farmers, and increase access to healthy and affordable food, especially for low-income families.
  • Negotiators in the House and Senate failed to meet the September 30 deadline. But as they continue to meet behind closed doors, they must prioritize smart local food policies.

Conservation Stewardship Program key points

  • H.R. 2 cuts nearly $5 billion from working land conservation programs over 10 years and completely eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)—a program so popular with farmers and already so underfunded that in recent years it has had to turn away as many as 75 percent of qualified applicants.
  • CSP takes a comprehensive approach to funding on-farm sustainability, providing participating farmers with ongoing performance-based stewardship payments to support advanced conservation systems.
  • In a recent UCS survey of 2,800 farmers across seven Midwestern states, three-quarters of respondents said they support incentives to reduce runoff and soil loss, improve water quality, and increase flood and drought resilience. That’s what CSP does.
  • Negotiators in the House and Senate failed to meet the September 30 deadline. But as they continue to meet behind closed doors, they must maintain and fully fund the Conservation Stewardship Program.

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