The farm bill and SNAP

Moderated by Rick Badie

A new farm bill will likely include spending cuts to the federal food stamp program called SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Today, two Catholic bishops warn against deep cuts and asks lawmakers to show compassion for the hungry. Meanwhile, a coordinator for a non-profit that advocates limited government opposes the farm bill being used to fund SNAP.

Hear the hungry

By Wilton Gregory and Gregory J. Hartmayer

Legislators in Washington are negotiating the final text for a five-year farm bill, a $500 billion law that sets agricultural policies for the country. At stake are programs that help the hungry at home and abroad.

In the United States, the most important farm bill program helping hungry people is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps. SNAP is one of the most effective programs to combat hunger in our nation. It is also one of the best-run programs that targets seniors, children, persons with disabilities, and unemployed and underemployed workers.

The Catholic Church runs many food pantries and other programs that help the hungry. However, all the food pantries out there are not going to be able to fill the hole that cuts to SNAP will leave. This is why the Catholic Church has joined many other faiths in opposing changes to SNAP that would result in cuts that harm the poor and vulnerable.

We also must not forget the hungry around the world. Overseas food aid programs in the farm bill are just a tiny fraction of spending, but have a huge impact on the lives of millions. Through development food aid programs, international humanitarian groups like our church’s Catholic Relief Services work with farmers with tiny two-acre plots of land to grow more food, build wells and organize to negotiate better prices for crops. This work transforms communities and puts them on the path to self-reliance.

Farm bill negotiators are considering a Senate proposal that may cut the funding for this kind of overseas work. From our perspective, this is a mistake. It makes much more sense to adopt the House approach that maintains funding for programs that help poor people grow more food today so they don’t need emergency help later.

Negotiators are also considering changes in how overseas programs are run. Right now, a good portion of funding for overseas food aid programs is generated when aid groups take donated U.S. food and sell it abroad. In some ways, you might think of this as an elaborate bake sale. Ultimately, though, it is an inefficient way to raise money and on average loses 25 cents on the dollar. Thankfully, Senate proposals are being considered that improve stewardship of these programs.

There are too many people these days with a knee-jerk reaction against programs that help the hungry, whether in the U.S. or overseas. We would ask these people to really listen to those in need. Hear the hungry. They are not seeking help because they want to. They have to. They are desperately seeking the dignity and honor that comes from providing for themselves and their families, but need a little help to get through these tough times. They are our brothers and sisters. We must answer their call.

The Rev. Wilton Gregory is the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta. The Rev. Gregory J. Hartmayer is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

Split the farm bill

By Joel Aaron Foster

Of course, the government should provide a basic safety net for Americans who ares truggling, but that doesn’t mean his spending should go unchecked.

Spending on food stamps is skyrocketing. The program suffers from waste, fraud and abuse. The federal government spent more than $78 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last year, more than twice the amount it spent before President Barack Obama took office. Considering Washington’s spending problem,lawmakers should seek common-sense ways to help low-income people put food on their tables and ensure safeguards for taxpayers.

Although part of the growth in food stamp spending is due to high unemployment, there are more significant factors. The biggest driver for the growth in food stamp spending is efforts at the state level to sweep more people into the program. Governments have exploited loopholes and removed eligibility barriers to secure more federal dollars.

One way to fix the problem of unchecked food stamp spending is to split the farm bill in two: food stamps and farm programs. No longer should lawmakers roll these parts together to shield them from reforms and fast-track them into law. It’s time to consider these parts separately.

Congress should also consider turning food stamp programs into a block grant and then turning control over to the states. This would give Georgia the flexibility to adapt our food stamp program to our unique needs, which would improve effectiveness and control costs. Local and state governments are much better equipped to address the needs of communities than the federal government. Block grants would be an improvement over current policy, in which states have an incentive to procure as many federal dollars as possible.

A third fix would be to close loopholes that automatically enroll people based on their participation in other, specified programs, known as “categorical eligibility.” This would ensure the people receiving food stamps are truly low income, and cut down on people who game the system.

Closing “LIHEAP loophole,” the name for the automatic income deduction for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program recipients, would save $10.8 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Simply applying income and asset tests to eligible households would reduce federal spending by $10 billion over this period.

House- and Senate-appointed conferees are meeting to resolve differences in the farm bill legislation that came out of Congress this summer. Sen. Saxby Chambliss is participating on this committee. He and his colleagues should know Georgians are watching closely. Supporting reckless spending levels is not why we sent them to Washington.

Joel Aaron Foster is communications director for Americans for Prosperity Georgia.

3 comments Add your comment

Elaine Davies

November 21st, 2013
10:49 pm

The documented fraud rate for SNAP/Food Stamps is between 3 and 4 percent. That’s very low for this program which is helping insure the nutritional status and health of American’s children. The program is doing what it was designed to do in hard times. Slashing benefits now wouldn’t be a sign of prudent fiscal management by Congress . It would be a mark of shortsighted cruelty. Not feeding kids means doing damage that is long-term for them and our country.


November 21st, 2013
11:53 am

It is just so much easier to focus on the frauds that those who are less powerful are said to be committing (even though it is less consequential).


November 21st, 2013
11:10 am

Huh? Proposing all these reforms to food stamps is fine. But what about reforms to the farm bill? A lot of the same alleged fiscal conservative anti-welfare types that want to cut food stamps also want to pork-barrel it out on the farm bill as a political payoff to their constituents and special interests – and in the case of a “conservative” Republican Tennessee congressman who voted to cut food stamps but whose farming company will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from this farm bill themselves – so there needs to be assurances that BOTH the farm bill (a payoff to the red state conservative Republican areas) AND food stamps (which Republicans associate with urban and minority voters in Democrat areas) get significant reforms AND reductions.

So sure, split them up, but make sure that there are no cuts in one without an equal level of cuts in the other. Otherwise, this is the same old faux conservatism that only seeks budget cuts that don’t hurt Republican voters and constituencies.