The Farm Bill and Food Stamps

Replacing Families with Federal Food Programs At the end of 2012, amidst calls for reform and fears of skyrocketing dairy prices, Congress failed to agree on a renewal of the Farm Bill (technically the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008). Instead, our representatives authorized extensions of certain portions of the Farm Bill, and put the whole of the renewal on the agenda for 2013. What few Americans realize is that an ever-decreasing amount of the billions spent on the Farm Bill actually goes to farms. Instead, about 80 percent and upward is spent on what is termed “nutrition”—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, and other food-aid programs. The 2008 Farm Bill estimated that some $284 billion would be spent on its programs over the five-year period of FY2008-FY2012. Of that amount, $188.9 billion was budgeted for food stamps—some 67 percent of the total five-year budget.1 Beginning in 2010, however—due to rising food costs, the recession, and broad changes in eligibility—more than 80 percent of all Farm Bill spending has been on food stamps. In other words, a multi-part bill that masquerades as agricultural policy is in fact almost entirely a public-aid program. And according to the Congressional Budget Office, the “Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012”—the continuation of the Farm Bill—will authorize some $969 billion over the next ten-year period, of which $768.2 billion (about 80 percent) will be on food stamps.2 The increasing dollars spent do not equal better nutrition, however. The data increasingly indicate that those on food stamps tend to have a worse diet than comparable low-income populations not on food stamps, while recent changes in program eligibility have vastly increased the numbers enrolled in SNAP. The greatest crime of food stamps, however, is that they encourage Americans to look to the federal government as the “parent” figure in their own lives even in somethi
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