SNAP still sticking point for farm bill

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WASHINGTON, D.C. - While Democrats and Republicans continue to debate how much money to spend on the nation’s nutrition assistance program, farmers are waiting to see how a new farm bill may impact them.

“We need a safe, secure, adequate and abundant food supply,” said Jack Fisher, the president of the Ohio Farm Bureau earlier this week. “That’s our number one priority.”

He added a farm bill is a way to achieve that goal.

A proposed farm bill is currently begin negotiated in conference committee after the U.S. Senate passed one version and the U.S. House passed another. One of the main sticking points is cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the previous food stamp program.

The Republican-controlled House version of a bill would cut $40 billion from the program, while the Democratically-held Senate would cut $4 billion.

“SNAP helps buy groceries, it helps farmers and it helps put money back in the community,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

He added he would not support a farm bill with cuts anywhere near $40 billion, but could get behind $4 billion in cuts.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said the program helps feed 2.4 million Ohioans.

“There is no debating that food stamp usage is at an all-time high, food bank demand is also at an all-time high,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “We are witnessing an uprecedented increase of hunger in Ohio.”

Both she and Brown said the SNAP program has already been impacted by $11 billion of cuts recently enacted when Congress failed to renew benefits that had been added during the recent economic crisis.

Brown pointed out a family of four which was in the SNAP program prior to the $11 billion cut would have been receiving $286 per month, which has been decreased by $36 per month. He added, contrary to the opinion of some, the program is not rife with fraud.

Hamler-Fugitt said even the proposed $4 billion in cuts would hurt the state’s food bank programs.

“It would require food banks and soup kitchens to triple the amount of food they acquire,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “That’s not going to happen, we just don’t have the resources. We are currently rationing the food we have.”

“Hunger knows no boundaries,” added Fisher. “Every corner of the state is experiencing some type of hunger.”

“I think what’s getting lost in this is these are benefits that are spent at local grocery stores,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “We need to keep the focus that SNAP benefits are being spent in lcoal communities.”

She added that it has been estimated that every $1 spent locally results in $1.70 in economic benefits.

While the SNAP program is debated, consensus seems to have been reached on another portion, eliminating direct payments to farmers.

Brown and Fisher both said a safety net for farmers is important, but direct payments are no longer the answer.

“This way, farmers plant based on what the market is,” Brown said.

“When Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, we need some help,” Fisher added. “Crop insurance with reasonable rates is a key point in the safety net concept. We want market-based commodity programs, we want to plant and grow food based on what consumers want and not on what the federal government will pay.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the elimination of direct payments save about $20 billion. He, along with Brown, are hopeful a bill will be crafted that can be accepted by both sides of the aisle.

“The members (of the committee) seem optimistic,” Portman said.

Brown agreed, and said the Senate version passed with overwhelming support and also fixed some regional differences that had been problems.

Portman added one Republican told him the farm bill might be better off to be included as part of the budget conference committee. Brown hopes the bill can be passed by the end of the year, but that will largely depend on the House’s schedule. The Senate will be out of session for a couple of weeks, though he said a special session could be called.

“I don’t want to go into next year without this,” Brown said.

Fisher added the farm bill impacts several aspects of a farmer’s life, from rural development, energy and safe water, while Brown said the farm bill could be a jobs bill and economic development tool if done right.

Perhaps most importantly, it could lead to stability for farmers and consumers.

“We need a farm bill and certainty in the marketplace for all Ohioans and all farmers,” Fisher said.

E-mail comments to briank@northwestsignal.net .