Let them eat cake, indeed.
The House Agriculture Committee endorsed a letter this week to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan arguing that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans purchase food, would make a better target for cuts than automatic subsidies to farms.
The move comes as food prices are rising -- the Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year -- making it harder for the beneficiaries of SNAP to stretch their existing benefits, even as farmers profit from the tightening market. Critics across the political spectrum have called agricultural subsidies wasteful and unnecessary, and they question the logic of maintaining them as lawmakers hunt for budget cuts.
"Conspicuously missing from the list of mandatory spending cuts the Agriculture Committee has made or is proposing to make are commodity subsidies, and specifically the $4.9 billion in direct payments that are automatically paid out each year regardless of whether a person farms,” said Jake Caldwell, the director of agricultural policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “It is shortsighted of the Committee to suggest cuts to SNAP, particularly as food prices are on the rise, Americans are spending more than 10 percent of their household budget on food, and more people are enrolled in the food stamp program than ever before."
Food costs are rising and high unemployment and long-term unemployment has swelled the number of households requiring food assistance. Farmer do have rising production costs, largely because of fuel costs, but stealing food out of the mouths of hungry children is no answer to the fuel costs problem, not to mention being morally reprehensible. But it's what farm state legislators are there for.
At the moment, 61 percent of the subsidies that the U.S. provides for agriculture go to just ten percent of recipients. Though some restrictions on rich farmers receiving subsidies were placed into the 2008 farm bill, they were mostly ineffective. And entrenched lawmakers on the agriculture committee help to keep it that way:The 15 congressional districts receiving the most in payments accounted for about a quarter of all farm aid…Representatives from nine of those districts serve on the House Agriculture Committee, including the panel’s top Democrat and Republican.
At the moment, 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go toward the production of just five crops — corn, wheat, rice, soy and cotton. “Most of that 90 percent went to the large farming corporations,” said Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food & Development Policy. “Much of those commodities were not used for food, but for animal feed and industrial applications.
But what's a few million hungry people, as long as agri-business is still getting its healthy cut of taxpayer dollars.