Farm Bill: Too Little Too Late: Congress Short Shrifts Poor Families and Small, Minority Farmers

Hunger is almost sure to increase in many American households under the Farm Bill that finally passed the House of Representatives Wednesday (January 29).

It would be obscene not to mention food subsidy cuts first -- before addressing the other harsh and disturbing realities of this overdue legislation. The massive bill cuts $8 billion from SNAP, the program widely known as the food stamp program -- less food for the most needy.

Experts estimate that the reduction of $90 a month in nutritional support for 850,000 households will cost each one about one meal a day, or 34 per month. Hunger will be unavoidable. Some $200 million in increased allotments to food banks in the bill could help offset the SNAP reductions somewhat.

The bill, which has bipartisan support and a recently struck deal with the House and Senate leaders, is expected to have a Senate vote soon. The measure was sent along to the Senate on a vote of 251-166 after years of turmoil, fighting and bickering.

Democrats wanted smaller cuts. Republicans wanted more. President Obama has spoken against reductions in the food supplement program, but his response to this specific bill is not known. This five-year bill will be the first passed since 2008.

Conservative Republicans in the House repeatedly helped to defeat numerous versions of the bill pushing for a five percent or greater reduction in food stamps. No legislation is perfect, but I just can't stomach these cuts to America's hungry and needy children.

Many of us farmers and advocates worked very hard on the Farm Bill. I wanted to see more reform for federal crop insurance for minority farmers. The larger farmers will receive the most help while small and minority farmers will receive little to no relief under the federal crop insurance program.

I was also pushing for more transparency. If recipients get large payouts from federal crop insurance then you the American people should know who gets how much. Those bills and amendments failed in the House compromise as well.

Why has it taken so long for Congress to act on the farm bill? The Farm Bill has been in the making since 2011. Here it is 2014 and the delaying tactics echo against President Obama's plea during his State of the Union Address last week for members of Congress to get more work done for their constituents.

One measure that I have been working on for decades, referred to in Congress as "2501," would enable minority farmers to get technical assistance and outreach to access Department of Agriculture programs and services.

The measure has been included in both House and Senate versions for $10 million as a competitive grant program for 1890 and 1860 land grant colleges and universities. It is a relatively tiny amount compared to what is needed to help black and other small farmers return to farming and succeed.

Farming is one of the few things the U.S. can claim superiority on. But Brazilian farmers are quickly closing the gap because of that nation's more favorable weather conditions, allow the farmers to grow multiple crops a year.

On the positive side, the bill dampens the $4.5 billion direct payments to mega-farms and farmers. It puts pressure on farmers to purchase federal crop insurance in order to maintain farm subsidies. But it still allows large farmers such as corn wheat and soybean producers to benefit heavily from the federal government.

I am a witness that small and minority farmers do not fare well on Capitol Hill. We advocates have worked diligently trying to inform both chambers of Congress on issues important to small farms. Still, the focus there is on serving a few large scale farms and corporate farms. We have small towns in rural America shutting down for loss of business from small farmers around them.

If we want to revitalize rural America, the way to do it is put small farmers back to work, provide them with timely loans, and open access to all federal programs regardless of race. This farm bill clearly misses the boat.

Too little. Too late.