Sometimes the cynicism is unbearable. The House farm bill epitomizes reprehensible legislation from this House of Representatives. Clearly catering to moneyed interests and Republican Party ideologues, it deliberately cuts support for programs serving people who depend on federal programs for their livelihoods and lives.
It’s important for the House to defeat this bill. This Congress that says it wants to cut the budget just happens to not want to cut it from the wealthiest recipients of federal farm largesse, but rather the most vulnerable. For example, the House bill expands access to unlimited subsidies for the nation’s largest farms, rather than making such subsidies more uniformly accessible to smaller and medium-sized farms and beginning farmers. Even as the federal government has subsidized a concentration in agriculture for decades, there have at least been some modest limits on how much subsidy an individual farm can receive. This farm bill throws those limits out, making it possible for large corporate farms to receive multiple and very large payments. Smaller farms will be competing in the marketplace against behemoths that will be fed by this farm bill.
While large and wealthy farms get wealthier, the House bill would reduce access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“food stamps") for over 2 million low-income people. It would require new work requirements for program participation, even though this part of the farm bill is already reduced in size from the last farm bill. Such requirements are unnecessary for budgetary reasons — this is just mean-spirited ideological red meat for ultra-conservatives.
Wisconsin farmers today have good reason to be grateful for the conservation programs this nation instituted back in the Dust Bowl days. Farms whose soil was blowing and eroding away were recovered for this generation of farmers to farm. Future generations deserve the same opportunity. The House bill slashes the voluntary conservation programs on actual working farms by nearly $5 billion over 10 years and effectively eliminates the heavily used and popular Conservation Stewardship Program.
The House bill undermines the burgeoning and productive local-foods marketing options that have helped so many get started in farming. It fails to renew programs that support farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture farms, value-added initiatives, and organic farming enterprises. It also undermines the few programs that have help train beginning farmers and provide affordable credit.
For farmers of color, far from helping them gain traction within a system that has perpetrated historic injustice, this bill fails to increase funding for the one program designed to help them, and even dilutes its impact by adding additional responsibilities to the program. Rural communities, which depend on small businesses to help survive rough economic times, are left out in the cold by the House bill, which removes funding from programs designed to help rural small businesses succeed.
Farming is a dynamic occupation, with climate change and market fluctuations always threatening a farmer’s profitability. So farmers depend on crop insurance to weather risks. This pricey part of any farm bill could be made much more useful for farmers, fairer, and more supportive of conservation practices; unfortunately, none of those happened in this farm bill. The House also failed to invest in the level and kind of research and outreach that help farmers adapt to changing circumstances.
Far from making America great again, the House bill undermines numerous preconditions for greatness. Congress should not pass it.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.
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