Advocating for a Just Farm Bill
As Congress returns from recess, they have a lot of work ahead with several crucial business items on the agenda. One of their top priorities is negotiating and passing a new farm bill. “Farm Bill” is the colloquial term for the omnibus, multiyear law that sets policy and funds programs relating to agriculture and our food system. Since the 1930s, there have been 18 farm bills passed roughly every 5 years. Over time, the purview of the legislation has grown to impact more than just our nation’s farmers and ranchers. The most recent farm bill, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, was comprised of 12 titles including nutrition, conservation, energy, forestry, rural development and more. Important programs and funding authorized by that bill are set to expire this year.
Why should we as people of faith engage in advocacy around the farm bill? The Genesis story tells us that God formed us from the earth to cultivate it so that all of Creation may flourish and live abundantly, and to do so with justice. At its heart, the farm bill is an opportunity for us as a nation to advance God’s vision of a just world for all. As such, it is essential that advocates raise their voices on three priorities: policies and programs that work toward justice for those who hunger, support for small farmers and workers who grow our food, and justice for the Earth on which all life depends.
Justice for Those Who Hunger
Over 75% of funding in the 2018 farm bill went to nutrition assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). SNAP alone helps to feed over 40 million low-income families. However, this vital program is under threat of funding cuts and stringent work requirements that would cause many families to lose benefits. We are advocating that Congress increase funding to food assistance programs, reject additional work requirements, and expand access to reduce hunger, address food insecurity, and improve nutrition. We also ask that Congress incorporate the RESTORE Act to end the drug felony ban on receiving SNAP benefits.
Justice for the Hands That Feed
The next major function of the Farm Bill is support to farmers through policies on commodities pricing and trade, as well as crop insurance. It is essential that we protect programs that financially support small farmers, black and Indigenous farmers of color, new and veteran farmers. The UCC has long supported protecting family farms and aiding socially disadvantaged farmers through Synod resolutions like one passed in 2001. We continue to advocate for provisions which create a strong economic safety net to keep small- and medium-sized farms in business as well as programs that help new farm starts. We are also advocating for the incorporation of bills like the Justice for Black Farmers Act, that seek to redress a history of discrimination by the Department of Agriculture against black and Indigenous farmers of color.
Justice for the Earth
Agriculture is reliant on a predictable climate, healthy soil, and clean air and water. Conservation of farmland as well as mitigation against climate change are other key concerns of the farm bill. But just as agriculture is impacted by the effect of greenhouse gas and carbon emissions, it also contributes significantly to those emissions. As other sectors like transportation and energy reduce their emissions, farming and ranching will account for a greater share. Congress can address this by strengthening programs, like the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, to help small farmers and ranchers implement conservation projects on their land as well as incorporating bills like the Agricultural Resilience Act to help farms adapt to climate change, adopt more sustainable practices and on-farm renewable energy.
These are but a few of our advocacy priorities this farm bill cycle. This fall our D.C. office will send out action alerts—like this one for repealing the SNAP drug felony ban—relating to these asks. As people of faith, we can both call for and work toward a “jubilee” moment to reorient and establish a more just, equitable, and sustainable food system for all. Let us seize this moment as God’s chosen caretakers.
Thaddaeus Elliott is the Justice and Peace Policy Fellow in the UCC Washington D.C. Office
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