“NO” on the Food Stamp and Farm Bill

This week, the House could vote on the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947), commonly referred to as the Farm Bill but more accurately described as the Food Stamp and Farm Bill.  Despite claims of reform, the bill continues to spend nearly $1 trillion on a variety of programs, including crop subsidies, conservation programs and food stamps.

America is nearly $17 trillion in debt, yet the bill is projected to cost $940 billion, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).   Proponents claim it will reduce the deficit, but it is actually a 56 percent increase from the 2008 bill, which was projected to cost $604 billion.  Not surprisingly, the 2008 bill actually ended up costing much more. America cannot afford another congressional boondoggle; now is the time to cut spending, not grow it.

Nearly 80 percent of the bill’s spending goes towards the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.  There are now nearly 48 million individuals on food stamps, compared with nearly 31 million in 2008 and 17 million in 2000.  Even after dramatic loosening of eligibility standards contributed to one in seven Americans now collecting food stamps, there has been scant discussion of reform.  The House bill’s food stamp savings are miniscule, just 2.5% of a program that has experienced exponential growth.

The inclusion of food stamps in the so-called “farm bill” is purely political.  One senior senator recently explained, “It helps get the farm bill passed.”  This is one reason why most conservatives are so intent on splitting up the bill between its food stamp and farm subsidy components—spending four times as much on food stamps as on commodities (and related) programs to pass the latter defies common sense and contributes to the “logrolling” that Americans resent as typical Washington behavior.

Heritage explains that while some bad subsidies and programs are removed from the bill, they are replaced with even riskier taxpayer-funded programs.  For example, the crop insurance program is expanded with the cost expected to grow to $8.9 billion from 2013 to 2022.  Other programs including the Supplemental Coverage Option and the Stacked Income Protection for Cotton program also put taxpayers at great risk.  The “shallow loss” program would protect farmers from virtually all risk.  Taxpayers are on the hook to cover even small risks for farmers, eliminating competitive challenges that drive innovation.  Finally, the bill includes a reference price program that would designate certain standard prices for commodities; if actual prices are different, taxpayers make up for the difference. The Congressional Budget Office estimate for the Senate’s Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program – the counterpart to the House’s Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) – is based on farmers’ record high incomes.  If prices decline toward historical levels, taxpayers will be on the hook.

Finally, farmers are currently carrying far less debt compared to their very strong assets. Net farm income is expected to reach “a remarkable $128.2 billion this year – the highest level since 1973,” making the aforementioned farm programs all but insanity.  The “farm” bill means more expenses for taxpayers and higher costs for consumers.  It means more unnecessary government dependence for wealthy farmers and food stamp recipients.