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As Farm Bill Heads to the President’s Desk, Food Pantries Brace for Impact

As Farm Bill Heads to the President’s Desk, Food Pantries Brace for Impact

Last week, the much anticipated farm bill passed its final hurdle and is on its way to the President for signature. The nearly $1 trillion dollar bill has been caught up in political wrangling, pitting major farming corporations against the needs of the poor and environmentalists. In the end, the government and the poor will end up carrying most of the burden.

There are some good things in the bill. For one, the labeling on chicken, pork and beef will have new information. The labels will now indicate where the animal was born, slaughtered and the meat processed. Foreign meat producers had been lobbying to have the labeling requirements removed, claiming it was an extra burden. For now, consumers will now where their meat comes from starting at the beginning to when it ends up on the store shelf.

The nearly 1,000 page bill also addresses issues endemic to farming, including soil erosion and the plowing of virgin lands. It encourages farmers to pursue conservation efforts by linking subsidies to those efforts, and reduces them in half for those that farm on virgin lands. The downside is that funding for overall environmental conservation efforts will be cut.

A big change has occurred in the way subsidies work for farmers. For more than 80 years, farmers have received subsidies for certain crops, regardless of how the crops do or what the market price is for them. Now, those have been cut and replaced with an insurance program that will pay out only when there is a loss, and some of these payments will be smaller than usual. In addition, the government will cover more of the cost of farm insurance (much like it does for flood insurance), making it more affordable for farmers. The winners will be the farmers and the insurance companies, and more risk is being taken on by the government. If crop prices fall or if there is a major disaster, the deficit would take a big hit.

The most controversial aspect of the bill includes the more than $8 billion dollars in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The cuts come by cutting benefits for those involved in “heat and eat” programs. Most states allow for deductions for housing and utility expenses when considering eligibility for assistance. Currently in 16 states and the District of Columbia, anyone who already participates in an energy assistance program (which covers heating assistance) gets an automatic increase in SNAP. Some have described this as a simple way to cut paperwork, while others have said that there are those that are getting more in assistance than they need as the automatic increase kicks in if recipients receive as little as $1 for heating.

The bill sets a minimum of $20 in heating assistance to qualify for increased SNAP assistance.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance program helps nearly 8 million households. In 2012 the program provided more than $3 billion dollars in assistance and for many it still wasn’t enough. Recipients that are receiving low amounts of heating assistance are doing so because the program has also seen severe cuts due to the sequester, which cut $2 billion from the program. Already struggling to do both, many will now be forced to choose between heating and food.

Legislators that supported the bill see this as closing a simple loophole. Critics point out that any amount of cuts can be the difference between barely hanging on and complete disaster. In October, nearly $5 billion in automatic cuts to the SNAP program went into effect, reducing an average of $36 per recipient. The cuts were due to the expiration of a temporary increase that went into effect during the recession. Almost immediately, grocery stores in neighborhoods with high concentration of customers receiving SNAP saw a reduction of sales as high as 10 percent. At the same time, in cities across the country food pantries were seeing a dramatic increase in demand and found they were unable to keep up, turning families away after running out of food. For the working poor, a cut of just a few dollars forces hard choices that can result in less healthy eating and increased health risks.

Nearly 47 million people currently receive food stamps, most of whom are educated and working. The new cuts will affect approximately 1.7 million people and reduce benefits on average by $90 per month.

The president is expected to sign the bill this week, which will set U.S. agricultural and food policy for the next five years. In the meantime, food pantries across the country are bracing for impact.

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Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images via Thinkstock

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80 comments

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6:09PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

Cutting SNAP food assistance, cutting off long term unemployment insurance, and humiliating kids whose parents are so hard up they can't afford the 40 cent reduced price lunches - what is this country coming to?

2:35PM PST on Feb 9, 2014

This SNAP cut severely affects me and countless others who rely upon food stamps to buy HEALTHY food. Junk food is cheaper, and this cut will force me, a disabled diabetic with far more health problems (mental) than I care to admit, to buy the junk food because now I won't be able to afford healthy food anymore. I will grow more obese because I can't afford healthy food anymore. Obese diabetics don't usually live so long. So what, who cares?

This is such a sad situation. I have been SO let down by my country. I'm disabled and unable to work through no fault of my own, and the government thinks it's okay to cut the assistance I rely upon. It's not easy living like this, and I HATE living like this! I'm on a road that leads to a dead-end. It's no wonder I'm depressed. I didn't go to college to live like this. The cuts to SNAP are going to kill me.

I guess that's what the government wants. They've been waging war on the poor, elderly, and disabled for so long - I know they would rather I just drop out of sight and they won't need to support me anymore. I know this SNAP cut will kill me quicker! We'll all just fade away and cease to be a drain on society.

UGH. I can't even think about voting anymore. My country has let me down. I'm so disgusted about the direction this country is headed... We can't even make sure our children will eat healthy and get a decent education. Nothing an activist can do about it, so why bother? We've become insignificant a

3:54AM PST on Feb 9, 2014

ty

2:02PM PST on Feb 8, 2014

Give MONEY to your local food pantry so nutritious food can be bought at wholesale prices. When people buy food in retail stores to donate, the people who need help with food end up with a zillion boxes of pasta.

3:05AM PST on Feb 8, 2014

Jan, there are all kinds of safety nets both private and public, the only excuses for a parent to let a child go hungry, is either they don’t care, or they are strung out on drugs, or both. Even if the parent is homeless there are abundant ways to be sure the child can eat.

9:11PM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Why is this allowed?

7:01PM PST on Feb 7, 2014

David F for failure, how do you expect people making minimum wage in part-time jobs (because that's all they could find) to support their kids? Oh, their fault for being too poor to afford advanced education and breeding anyway? Of course you no doubt don't support contraception coverage and, God forbid, abortion, so now those kids exist and you blame the parents for having them. If you're "pro-life" that includes the kid after it draws it's first breath, and taking it away from its "insanely irresponsible parents" makes it the taxpayers responsibility, and I'm sure you just hate that idea also. Any other brilliant ideas?

5:43PM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Randi L.: says “Mr Obama How do expect this Country to raise it's D+ rating in Education when the kids go to school HUNGRY And Leave school still Hungry.” Unquote. Those children that go hungry, either should have their parents arrested, or they should be taken away from their insanely irresponsible parents.

3:22PM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Stand up and make your voices heard.

It is obvious that most of congress has no clue what the citizens need or want.
Almost every day we sign petitions and tell the government what we need and they still go off and have more vacations. Another thing they do is bring back over and over the same issues. Like over 40 times on the ACA alone. The American public has been fooled for a longtime now. We are seeing this. So instead of doing the same thing with a different flag, symbol, etc. We can create a society where all people are equal..no matter what sex, color, nationality, religion there is. We are one species..no subcultures.... and we all deserve to live with justice and dignity.

1:11PM PST on Feb 7, 2014

Every month our church has a "needs" list from the local food bank which and we also get requests for warm items -- blankets, coats, socks, etc. -- in winter.

You know that demand will be going up and up as assistance goes down and down. Between food assistance cuts and the shutting off of unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed, I am awaiting the government to recommend workhouses and debtors' prisons. The corporations already have their wage slaves....

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