Friday, February 7, 2014

Why You Gotta Sign the Farm Bill HERE, Mr. President?!

Barack Obama’s visiting my community today. He’s expected to sign the controversial Farm Bill into law this afternoon just a few miles from my home near Michigan State University.

Why is it controversial? As the Washington Post pointed out last week in an editorial entitled, “This Farm Bill Deserves a Veto”: “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that this legislative grotesquerie gives to the rich and takes from the poor.” (I want to buy the person who came up with “legislative grotesquerie” a beer.)

After the U.S. Senate passed the almost 1,000-page bill, which funds agriculture and food stamps and represents around $1 trillion in spending over the next decade, President Obama praised its passage and insisted that it would “protect the most vulnerable Americans.”

B*llsh*t. It protects the status quo. The only thing that’s different is how.

I’ve written about this before. (Click here to read, “Snap to It, Congress! Stop Spending So Much to Feed the Hungry!,” June 1, 2013; here to read, “On Subsidizing Agribusiness and Giving Hungry Folks the Bird,” July 13, 2013; and here to read, “Warning: I Was Cynical When I Wrote This,” November 8, 2013.) I couldn’t understand then and I can’t understand now why U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) – who I used to know and support – goes along with literally disgusting cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while allowing Big Ag to continue to receive the government largesse to which it’s become accustomed. (Senator Stabenow was quoted as saying, “This is not your father’s farm bill.” Since I’m pretty sure my father wouldn’t want to subsidize Big Ag at the expense of hungry children, I’d have to agree with her on this.)

In the blink of an eye, the debate seemed to move from “Should we allow SNAP to be slashed at all by heartless, pandering Republicans?” to “Can we agree, albeit grudgingly, to significant cuts to SNAP that will certainly hurt millions of America’s poorest because, well, they’re not as devastating as what GOP politicians originally were threatening?” There was also that silly “food stamps don’t belong in the Farm Bill anyway” distraction; conservatives tried to justify robbing from the poor to give to the rich by pointing out that our legislative process is complex and convoluted. (How would pols hide their audacious pork barrel spending if everything were streamlined and transparent?)

Debbie Stabenow
Photo courtesy Reuters/Rebecca Cook
U.S. House Republicans originally wanted to cut $39 billion from the program, which makes the final $8.7 billion in cuts a victory of sorts for Democrats (although Senate Democrats had approved only $4.5 billion in cuts last summer) but not for families who rely on SNAP to put food on their tables.

Why the Associated Press called the SNAP cuts “mostly symbolic” is a mystery to me. According to, “For the 47 million people enrolled in the food assistance benefit program, the average monthly household income is just $744. Last November, when $4 billion of stimulus funding for SNAP ended, all recipients were hit with an average reduction in benefits of roughly $38 per month. Now, the new farm bill will add a further average cut of $90 per month for some 1.7 million people.”

It’s really necessary to cut food assistance for 850,000 households and force people to choose between paying rent and buying food?! I don’t know what world D.C. politicians live in but it sure isn’t the same one that I inhabit.

The subsidized crop insurance program, however, is getting an additional $6 billion in funding. A recent New York Times piece entitled, “Senate Passes Long-Stalled Farm Bill, With Clear Winners and Losers” includes the following: “Unlike the food stamp program, the federally subsidized crop insurance program was not cut. The program, which is administered by 18 companies that are paid $1.4 billion annually by the government to sell policies to farmers, pays 62 percent of farmers’ premiums.” (And get this: a provision in the bill prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from renegotiating smaller payments to these private insurance companies over the five-year life of the bill. Sweet, huh?)

Here’s what the same article said about the ag side of things:

“The 10 percent of farmers who have received 75 percent of all subsidies between 1995 and 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group, have earned an average of $32,043 per year in federal payments. While it lays to rest the direct payment program, which guaranteed farmers a chunk of cash regardless of what they grew or how prices or weather fluctuated in a given year, the new farm bill shifts that money into the crop insurance program. The corporate welfare status quo is therefore largely maintained. Under two new programs, Agriculture Risk Coverage and Supplemental Coverage Option, eligible growers will be guaranteed revenues of at least 86 percent of earnings from recent years  years when crop prices hit record highs.”

Doesn’t that put your mind at ease? If my math is correct, $32,043 divided by 12 (months per year) equals more than $2,670 per month for farmers. I like and respect family farmers as much as the next person – Big Ag, with its contemptible concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and massive waste lagoons, is a different story – but I just can’t swallow taking food out of the mouths of babes, literally, anywhere in this country which is what these SNAP cuts are going to do.

The president delivered what I thought was a great State of the Union speech last week. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: not even JFK or Reagan was as skilled as President Obama at connecting with an audience, and they were damn good.) He referenced Obamacare, the economy, immigration reform, Iran, Afghanistan, small business, job sourcing, the minimum wage, income inequality, education, energy, solar power and carbon emissions, among other topics. Know what didn’t get even a two-second mention? Food stamps.

(If you missed the speech and it wasn’t on purpose, click here.)

As if this isn’t bad enough, out of all the places in America where agriculture is important, the president has to come to my neighborhood to sign this grotesquerie into law. Thanks a lot, Obama.

Sources:,, Washington Post, New York Times,


  1. These were pretty much my thoughts, exactly. I was excited to hear that the President would be in Michigan today...and then I heard why he was coming.

  2. Now that it has been signed by President Obama.... any Democrat in the 2014 election should be submitting bills right and left to extend unemployment, increase and extend food stamps, increase minimum wage to livable wage, remove the SS cap and increase earned benefit to a liveable amount.

  3. NPR has done a HORRIBLE job of scrutinizing this "crop insurance" program. They let Stabenow and other politicians get away with selling crop insurance as universally good.