Our View: Just imagine a Thanksgiving feast on a $1.67 budget

11/25/2013 7:00 PM

11/25/2013 7:31 PM

Another year has passed and there still is no new five-year farm bill. The House and Senate are no closer to a deal on a farm and food safety net than they were this time a year ago. A one-year extension on the 2008 farm bill expired Sept. 30 with little notice as the government shut down and threats of default grabbed all the attention.

Despite being a year behind, they’re in no rush. The House will work only seven days in November and eight in December. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants the House to adjourn for the year Dec. 13. Any hopes of getting a farm bill done by Thanksgiving Day are gone; hopes for getting it done by Dec. 13 are slim.

Same as last year, the big hang-up is majority House Republicans seeking deep cuts to the food stamp program.

This comes as Americans struggling to put food on the table took an $11 per person cut in monthly food stamp benefits on Nov. 1, with the end of the 2009 stimulus bill. In California, the average monthly food stamp benefit per person dropped to $138 a month – $34.50 a week, less than $5 a day, $1.67 per meal. People trying to get by on so little won’t have much of a feast on Thursday.

Even as House Republicans voted to whack the food stamp program, a Nov. 7 New York Times headline read, “Billionaires received U.S. farm subsidies, report finds.”

A search through congressional districts in this latest update of the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database reveals a disconnect in California’s Congressional District 1, represented by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale. In his district, 15 percent of families are below poverty level, and 19,600 families, with a median income of $20,873, got food assistance in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. LaMalfa, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee and doesn’t miss many meals, voted with the Republican majority in July to strip food stamps out of the farm bill altogether. In September, he voted to cut $39 billion over 10 years, throwing 5 million people off food stamps.

At the same time, LaMalfa supported price guarantees for rice in the House farm bill. The LaMalfa Family Partnership, which grows rice, got $5.1 million in farm subsidies from 1995 through 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group’s database. In 2012, the LaMalfa clan received $188,570. If all that was spent on food, it would work out to $172.21 per meal per day.

Certain farmers, apparently, deserve protection from the vagaries of life. The working poor, evidently, don’t.

The Senate and House bills would eliminate most direct payments to farmers – traditional farm subsidies – in favor of crop insurance, a good thing. The Senate version, however, does a better job of reining in unlimited crop insurance subsidies.

Revamping the farm bill and cutting out subsidies for the so-called “program crops” of wheat, corn, sugar, cotton, etc., would do little harm in our part of California. Very few farmers around here depend on those subsidies. But research and marketing money does benefit our growers.

The Senate bill, which passed on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, would cut $3.9 billion from food stamps over 10 years. As we recover from the Great Recession, fewer families will need food stamps. Senate cuts reflect this. House cuts go way too far.

With political will and a little compassion at this time of year when we celebrate food and heed the needs of the unfortunate, the House and Senate should pass a farm bill by the time of Boehner’s Dec. 13 House adjournment.

Don’t drag this out another year. The nation needs a reliable food and farm safety net.

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