Tuesday, December 13

Farm Bill 2012: Funding, Farming, and Food Stamps

In the above photo, tape is prominently seen on an ad for Farm Bill 2012 . It is a fitting design choice. The Farm Bill, the largest document that shapes food and agriculture policy, appears every four or five years, to little notice of many New Yorkers, but to minute notice of farmers, agriculturists, and countless others. Each measure is relentlessly analyzed, clipped, and tossed around.

The last Farm Bill was created in 2008. It is an over six hundred page document that is near indecipherable to laymen and experts alike.  Twilight Hathaway writes of the Farm Bill,"Until now, food policy on the national level has been a bit like a formidable, private club. This is evidenced by the fact that even those with fairly informed perspectives still feel the need to begin their blog posts with statements like: "I have a confession to make: I'm intimidated by the Farm Bill."

Until now. The 2012 Farm Bill has brought along with it a host of people aiming to bring their concerns to a larger audience, usiding digital means: An animated film takes The Biggest Loser title and is using it to highlight the consumer inequtuies in the potential farm bill. Or, a photographer in Washington has documented dozens of small farmers with a message, each holding a white sign with their own personal dictum(reminscent of the 'We are the 99%' Tumblr.

Intiatives like these are aimed at inspiring an equitable Farm Bill 2012. Having recently fallen apart in the Super Committee, Farm Bill 2012 remains an open issue for citizens to become engaged in. 

I spoke to James Kielkopf, a professor at The New School currently teaching an online course on the Farm Bill,  in an attempt to attain a clearer understanding about Farm Bill 2012, to gain an insight into his feelings on Farm Bill 2012, and to examine its possible affects on the lives of New Yorkers:

Q: What do you see as the most important issue in the 2012 Farm Bill?

A: The most important issue in the 2012 Farm Bill is funding -- will it be substantially cut or not?  Before the failure of the super-committee in November, the agricultural committee chairs and ranking members (the top Republican and Democrat from the House and Senate Ag committees) had proposed cuts of $23 billion ($2.3 billion per year), most of that from the commodity programs but about $4 billion ($400K per year) from the Nutrition programs, including SNAP.  

Nutrition makes up almost all of the farm bill -- about $70 billion per year in 2011 and 2012 due to the high use of food stamps.  

However, with the failure of the super-committee, the cuts may be only about $15 billion overall, probably all of it in the commodity programs (which include environmental protection programs such as the conservation reserve program (CRP)."

(A breakdown of a proposed Farm Bill 2012)

Though nutrition programs have been spared some budget cuts, other key programs in New York City have not fared so well. Kielkopf continues:

"However, there are a number of key parts of the 2008 farm bill that are not due to be continued because they have no "baseline" funding and the programs will expire at the end of the current 2008 Farm Act and are not included in the $15 billion in cuts that will be made.  
Some of these programs are important in NY such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program that helps bring fresh fruit and vegetables to low income, supermarket deprived neighborhoods. "

The FMPP, due to lose funding in 2012, not only provides direct consumer-seller access in supermarkets, but in CSA’s, roadside stands, and other direct market attempts as well. The 2011 awards continued funding for 38 CSA’s, and 20 agrotourism projects. 

(A CSA in Dumbo. Produce is delivered each week from a local farm.)

An estimated 10 percent of FMPP funds are set toward Electronic Benefit Transfers(EBT). According to sustainableagriculture.net, “EBT is the mechanism by which participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, receive monthly benefits.  Twenty-four percent of this year’s projects have an EBT component.” 

Rather than pushing for a continual reliance upon FMPP, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is aiming to advocate that the 2012 Farm Bill provide CSA’s, agrotourism, and other programs with EBT access ‘through the same funding stream as grocery stores and corner stores.’

Q: What is the SNAP program, and how can it be improved in NYC? 

A: SNAP is already a great program overall.  If we trace it back to its origins, it is the first true "welfare program" in the country.

The 'Food Stamp Plan' began in 1939 as a way to support Depression families, and farmers. The very first food stamp appears below:

In 1977, the current Food Stamp program was created by U.S Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern. The 1977 act, according to Oregonhunger.org, 'expanded participation and eliminated the process of food stamps').

Three years ago, the 2008 Farm Bill renamed the program 'SNAP'

(An EBT card for the state of New York)

 Kielkopf continues,

"Because of the Great Recession, more "food stamps" (SNAP is the new name) are being provided in NYC and elsewhere since there are now high numbers of people whose diets would be deficient without them." 

1.8 million New Yorkers are currently members of the SNAP program. It is estimated that more New Yorkers qualify but do not apply. New York is one of only two states(the other is Arizona) to require SNAP applicants to undergo fingerprinting. Supporters say it deters fraud, opponents challenge the evidence. It is estimated that the state of New York lost $124 million in unclaimed SNAP benefits in 2008.

(A graph showing the poverty-SNAP relation.)

In NYC and beyond, Kielkopf stresses that  "SNAP should be improved to reduce its effective subsidy of sugar and fat consumption, but there is no escaping the fact that this will require more money to serve the same amount of people.

The  aim would be to use SNAP to effectively reduce the price and hassle of getting fresh vegetables into people's diets while increasing the effective consumer price of processed foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat. So, to make this neutral with respect to non-food consumption (rent, medical care, school supplies, cigarettes, whatever, etc.),

SNAP's funding should really be increased to allow for more generous distributions.  (And that's a tough sell in the present austerity discourse.)"

No comments:

Post a Comment