Tell Congress: Fight for Farmers & Healthy Food in the Farm Bill

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. 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. But the shape of the next farm bill is in question, with drastically different visions offered by the House and Senate, and critically important programs at risk. With the clock ticking toward the current bill’s expiration on September 30, 2018, the time for action is now.

Background:

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, on June 28, the Senate passed its own farm bill proposal, S. 3042, in a bipartisan process that looked very different from the political fight in the House. 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.

What you can do:

The Senate farm bill proposal isn’t perfect, but overall, it’s a sound, science-based proposal that would strengthen our food system, from farm to fork—in sharp contrast to the House version.

Now, leaders from the House and Senate are meeting to hash out their differences and agree on a compromise before the current farm bill expires on September 30, 2018. As they negotiate behind closed doors, the members of the farm bill conference committee must 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.

Email your representatives and urge them to build a food system we can all be proud of.

Take further action:

Once you’ve emailed your members of Congress, write a letter to the editor of a local paper to urge farm bill negotiators to prioritize SNAP, local food programs, and conservation programs in the 2018 farm bill. 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.
  • As negotiators in the House and Senate meet to hash out their differences in a conference committee, they must prioritize maintaining SNAP as it is, without any additional unnecessary work requirements.

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.
  • As negotiators in the House and Senate meet to hash out their differences in a conference committee, 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.
  • As negotiators in the House and Senate meet to hash out their differences in a conference committee, they must maintain and fully fund the Conservation Stewardship Program.

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