Proposed Farm Bill must revisit priorities

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By Barb Arland-Fye
Editorial

On May 24, the House Agriculture Committee passed a proposed $1.5 trillion Farm Bill — the Farm, Food and National Security Act of 2024 — which now moves to the House and Senate for consideration. This proposed legislation requires change of heart surgery because of what amounts to a substantial reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that helps 44.2 million people in the U.S. put food on the table.  More than 280,000 of them live in Iowa.

Our U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders see SNAP as critical to addressing hunger in the U.S. and around the world. Two bishops who chair committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and leaders of four other national Catholic organizations ask us to urge our House representatives to protect SNAP in the Farm Bill (https://tinyurl.com/5a3jdc5p).

In a letter addressed to the chairs and ranking members of the Agriculture and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committees, the Catholic leaders shared their concerns about the proposed legislation. “Food is a basic need and a fundamental human right. Nothing should stand in the way of people having access to the food they need to live,” the Catholic leaders wrote in their May 22 letter. “We urge Congress to strengthen and protect programs that feed hungry individuals and families. As the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, SNAP is a critical component of the Farm Bill.”

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Among their greatest concerns is a provision in the House bill that rescinds recent updates to the Thrifty Food Plan. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities describes the Thrifty Food Plan as “a market basket of food, the cost of which represents the minimum amount of money USDA estimates a household needs to purchase a frugal but nutritious diet …”

“The Thrifty Food Plan must continue to be updated so it accurately reflects what it costs to feed a family with a healthy diet,” the Catholic leaders said. “Under the House proposal, the Thrifty Food Plan would be unable to reflect any new scientific nutrition evidence. It would act as a cut to future SNAP benefits for the millions of people who rely on the program for basic nutrition, estimated at over $30 billion in the next decade. We cannot support a Farm Bill that makes cuts to SNAP, including cuts to future benefit amounts, or that weakens the efficacy of or access to this vital program.”

The Catholic leaders referenced a letter submitted a year ago urging the legislators to ensure a Farm Bill that “prioritizes support for programs that feed the hungry both domestically and abroad, a safety net for farmers that ensures resources target small and moderate-sized family farms and vulnerable farmers, the well-being of rural communities, and sustainable stewardship of the land.”

Also of concern: “the large increase in commodity supports in the House bill at the expense of future SNAP benefits. A more targeted approach to commodity supports could help ensure the legitimate needs of farmers are not pitted against families struggling to put food on the table.”

House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson and other supporters of the bill in its present form insist that SNAP revision amounts to correcting the current administration’s overreach in 2021. However, the USDA website states that a “data-driven review of the Thrifty Food Plan” prompted the cost adjustment. It marked the “first time the purchasing power of the plan has changed since it was first introduced in 1975, reflecting notable shifts in the food marketplace and consumers’ circumstances over the past 45 years.”

“The 2024 Farm Bill will reassert Congressional intent by prescribing a cost-neutral process while taking into consideration food prices and composition, consumption patterns, and dietary guidance,” Thompson wrote in an April 16, 2024 column for “Agri-Pulse.” He said, “SNAP benefits will continue to be annually updated to reflect inflation.” He emphasized that the bill does not cut, decrease or impact SNAP benefits or eligibility for them.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, however, states the proposal would limit the USDA’s “authority to adjust the cost of the TFP to accurately reflect the cost of a frugal, healthy diet. USDA would be required to regularly undertake a rigorous and resource-intensive evaluation that would only ever result in a single pre-determined outcome: the cost of a healthy diet would remain unchanged, regardless of scientific evidence to the contrary.”

It’s time to exercise compassion toward children and adults who struggle to afford the healthy diet that all of us deserve. Read about the proposed Farm Bill on the USCCB website (usccb.org/search?key=Farm%20Bill%202024). Follow up with letters, e-mails or phone calls to our Congressional delegation (Congress.gov). Ask them to reject any measure that weaken SNAP, including efforts to undermine the Thrifty Food Plan. It is the change of heart surgery that the Farm bill needs.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
Arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org


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