Should the Farm Bill be split, separating agricultural policy from food stamps?
It’s a question that pops up periodically, especially in the last couple of years when it became so difficult to pass the Farm Bill.
The nutrition program makes up 80% of the Farm Bill with actual farm policy only a minor portion of the bill.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack argues that the two are linked. He says food stamps play a role in agricultural income, since 15-cents of every dollar spent on groceries ends up in farmers’ pockets.
“That safety net, that nutrition assistance program, is also part of the overall stabilizing of farm prices and making sure that we have adequate income for our producers to keep them in business,” Vilsack tells Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
Sen. Mike Johanns, a former Agriculture Secretary, isn’t so sure.
“I would argue with Secretary Vilsack about that being a way to build the economic growth for the farm sector. I would be uncomfortable in reaching that conclusion,” Johanns says. “I would much prefer to fight for foreign market access and to do more value-added items. I think that’s where the real future for agriculture is and that’s the way you are going to build the economy.”
Johanns says foreign trade and value added products boost the farm economy much more than food stamps or the school lunch program.
The food stamp program affects a number of Americans. The vast majority of food stamps go to senior citizens, the disabled, children, and the working poor. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, every dollar distributed by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known by the acronym of SNAP, generates $1.87 in economic activity.
Though Johanns and Vilsack might differ on how the SNAP program, better known as food stamps, impacts agricultural income, they agree that separating it from farm policy in the Farm Bill would be a political mistake.
Both Johanns and Vilsack say that without the nutrition program in the Farm Bill, a vast majority of Congress would have no interest in the Farm Bill. Simply put, it simply wouldn’t generate enough votes to pass.
Johanns says those who argue for a split make persuasive arguments and he’s tempted to agree with them, until he views it realistically and concludes that without the nutrition portion of the Farm Bill, it wouldn’t pass Congress.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]