The $1 trillion farm bill under debate in Congress would cut nutrition assistance programs that feed millions of low-income families even as it provides subsidies to big agricultural corporations.
Beneficiaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often referred to as food stamps or SNAP, could find it more difficult to use the program feed their families in coming years. The House of Representatives voted to cut $21 billion from the program earlier this month. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that if these cuts are passed by the Senate, they will eliminate assistance for 2 million families.
The cuts would affect children from low-income families who rely upon SNAP to receive free meals at school. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 210,000 children would lose access to free lunch if their parents are removed from the program.
Overall, nearly 50 million Americans rely upon SNAP and other forms of publicly funded nutrition assistance. Food stamp usage has grown by roughly 70 percent since the financial crisis of 2008, costing the government $74.6 billion.
Cuts to SNAP could lead low-income Americans to increase their consumption of low-cost fast foods that contain high fat and sugar levels. Critics posit that some lawmakers support cuts to SNAP to prevent users from buying things like energy drinks, already a prevalent trend in poorer areas with decreased availability of fresh and healthy food.
“Elements of the farm bill, as it stands, will cut food stamps to the poor and the previously incarcerated, thus increasing poverty and possibly crime; add to the growing obesity crisis by encouraging chemical sugar substitutes; push genetically modified food at the expense of public health with the so-called ‘Monsanto Protection Act’; and support factory farming at the expense of sustainable food production with abusive crop subsidies,” writes Heidi Moore, The Guardian’s U.S. finance and economics editor.
More protections for Big Ag
In the meantime, the new law will increase subsidies and protections for major agricultural organizations. For example, the U.S. government keeps the price of sugar artificially inflated to protect American sugar producers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the USDA may buy 400,000 tons of sugar at an estimated loss of $80 million to taxpayers just to keep the price of U.S. sugar above the true market value.
The farm bill sets a minimum price for sugar, mainly to protect U.S.-grown sugarbeets and sugarcane from compeition from overseas. The policy also includes import restriction on cane sugar produced in Central America and the Caribbean.
Senators also defeated a proposal to give states the authority to require genetically modified foods to be labeled.