Written by Emily Mullins
United Church of Christ advocates expressed opposition to proposed cuts to the 2013 Farm Bill that would reduce funding for programs that provide food to underprivileged families. At a rally in Washington, D.C., May 16, hunger-relief charities and other faith-based groups spoke against the proposed $21 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, saying they would be detrimental for families and children that rely on government assistance for daily food and nutrition.
"UCC advocates have been faithfully working for this Farm Bill over the last three years because we recognize that many of the issues that impact our communities here and around the world are, at their core, related to food and environmental justice," said Marie Rietmann, UCC sustainable agriculture and food security liaison in Washington, D.C. "We're trying to advocate for a Farm Bill that protects hungry families."
The Farm Bill, reauthorized every five years, is the main federal legislation regarding agricultural and food policy, including the food stamp program. Both the House and the Senate have introduced their own versions of the legislation. The Senate is expected to vote on the Farm Bill next week. Its version of the bill would cut SNAP benefits by an average of $90 per month for 400,000 households. The House is expected to vote on the Farm Bill in June. Its version would cause 2 million individuals to lose their SNAP benefits entirely, 210,000 children to lose free school meals, and 850,000 to see their benefits cut by an average $90 per month.
"Some members of Congress feel that it should be exclusively the job of churches and private groups to feed hungry people in our communities," said Rietmann. "Throughout our history, our congregations have been and continue to be on the front lines in meeting the needs of hungry families. But we cannot do it alone, especially in this time of economic downturn. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of SNAP recipients."
The Farm Bill also includes provisions addressing agricultural sustainability and environmental protection. One particular issue the UCC and the religious community have been working on is to ensure that farmers who receive federal subsidies for crop insurance must abide by conservation compliance policies, which protect the soil, water and wetlands, and also ensure the subsidies are used with the public's best interests in mind. Basic conservation requirements to protect against soil erosion and wetland drainage have been a condition of receiving farm subsidies since 1985, but the requirements do not apply to federal subsidies for crop insurance, the nation's biggest farm subsidy program.
The amendment was added to the Senate bill on May 14, a win for the UCC and other religious advocates, said Rietmann. The House bill does not include a similar measure.
"As the use of crop insurance grows, we need to make sure that conservation compliance is reattached to crop insurance subsidies," said Rietmann. "By requiring basic levels of protections for soil, water and wetlands, this conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers can help ensure that where public money is invested, the public's interests are protected."
The UCC and almost 30 other faith groups have signed the Principles for a Faithful Farm Bill, which urges Congress to take the opportunity presented by the reauthorization of the Farm Bill to reduce hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world, and encourage sustainable stewardship of the world's resources.
"Our nation's food and farm policies as embodied in the Farm Bill impact people and communities from rural America to developing countries," the statement reads. "In the current budget climate, the Farm Bill's limited resources must be effectively targeted where need is greatest. Programs and policies that curb hunger and malnutrition, support vibrant agricultural economies in rural communities, and promote the sustainable use of natural resources must be prioritized."