Written by Barb Powell
Millions of Americans could lose the ability to pay for groceries under proposed changes to the 2012 Farm Bill, and United Church of Christ leaders are working to raise awareness around the issue.
"God calls us to stand up against injustice," said Rev. Sandra Sorensen, director of the United Church of Christ's Justice and Witness Ministries office in Washington, D.C. "Budget choices that cause food lines to grow longer during a time of great need are unjust and contrary to our faith calling. Congress needs to take responsibility and continue helping hungry people in our nation."
The legislation, introduced last week by Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Md.), specifically cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, which provides financial assistance for food purchasing to low- and no-income people and families living in the United States, by $16 billion over 10 years.
The Farm Bill, first introduced in 2002 and updated every five to seven years, is a major piece of agriculture and nutrition legislation that has a profound impact on public health by affecting farming and food production, the types of food available to Americans, and how much it costs. Congress writes the legislation with input from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers, and other stakeholders. The most recent Farm Bill, approved in 2008, authorized more than $600 billion in spending over 10 years. The bill’s SNAP program primarily serves households with children, seniors, unemployed workers and people with disabilities. The average SNAP household has an income of 57 percent of the poverty level, and 84 percent of all benefits go to households with a child, senior citizen or person with a disability.
The SNAP funding cuts would restrict states’ ability to coordinate the program with other low-income programs. Specifically it would restrict the ability for states to coordinate SNAP income and asset rules for participants enrolled in other programs. This would result in up to 3 million Americans losing benefits each year, including 280,000 school-age children who would no longer be eligible for free school meals, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The cuts would also limit "Heat and Eat" policies, a partnership between SNAP and the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that helps offset high energy costs, resulting in SNAP-eligible households losing $90 of food benefits each month, according to the CBO.
"We cannot understand how anyone could believe that it is moral, just or conscionable to attempt to cut food benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable among us," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. "It is not the American way to take food away from the impoverished children, senior citizens or disabled people living on the brink of hunger, those who are too young, too old or too infirm to fend for themselves."
United Church of Christ leaders are urging Congress to take the opportunity presented by the reauthorization of the Farm Bill to reduce hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world and encourage sustainable stewardship of our resources, and supports the following principles for the 2012 Farm Bill:
- Protect and strengthen programs that reduce hunger and improve nutrition in the United States.
- Promote investments and policies that strengthen rural communities and combat rural poverty.
- Provide a fair and effective farmer safety net that allows farmers in the United States and around the world to earn economically sustainable livelihoods.
- Strengthen policies and programs that promote conservation and protect creation from environmental degradation.
- Protect the dignity, health, and safety, of those responsible for working the land.
- Promote research related to alternative, clean, and renewable forms of energy that do not negatively impact food prices or the environment.
- Safeguard and improve international food aid in ways that encourage local food security and improve the nutritional quality of food aid.