Apr 212011
Authors: Robyn Scherer

Next year, the farm bill will go up for review again. Due to the common name of this bill, many people are falsely led to believe this bill only benefits farmers.

This is not the case. The farm bill, also known as H.R. 2419, “The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008,” covers many different sectors including commodities, conservation, nutrition and crop insurance among others.

Are you guessing that commodities receive the most money in this group? Guess again. In reality, the majority of the funding goes to nutrition programs, with 67 percent of the total budget. Commodities are second with 14 percent, conservation programs are third with 9 percent and crop insurance is forth with 8 percent, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

The Congressional Research Service says in a document titled “The 2008 Farm Bill: A Summary of Major Provisions and Legislative Action,” that “The farm bill’s nutrition title accounts for well over half of all spending on programs and activities covered by the bill, with the overwhelming majority financing the Food Stamp program. The most significant issues in (and provisions of) this title are those dealing with administration of, eligibility for, and benefits under the Food Stamp program.”

Now, the food stamp program is part of the welfare program. For a family of four, with two working adults, two children and an average income of $80,000, 3.6 percent of your total income is paid to food and nutrition assistance ($139.07 per year), while your contribution to agriculture (research, crop insurance and subsidies) is .8 percent per year, or $30.90. This information was calculated using Your Federal Taxpayer Receipt, found on the White House website.

Still think the farm bill is about farmers?

I realize that subsides are still paid out to farmers. While I don’t necessarily agree with the program, it’s important to understand why these programs are in place.

“The core programs provide price and income support for grains, oilseeds, fiber, dairy, and sugar. These commodity programs are intended to help farmers stabilize their incomes in the face of risks inherent in farming,” according to the USDA economic research service.

A letter to the editor of the Collegian published on April 14 said, “I’d become a freeloading farmer and file for part of the $30 billion in federal subsidies ($5 billion in direct payments) they get for doing nothing.”

I have never visited a farm where the farmers were freeloaders. They work every day, just like you do. However, unlike you, farmers have to worry about weather and drought wiping out their entire income for the year, when you don’t.

The total budget for the farm commodities programs is $8.3 billion per year, as compared to $37.8 billion per year for nutrition supports. The stated $30 billion does not exist for commodity payments, according to CRS Report R41195, Actual Farm Bill Spending and Cost Estimates.

What I’m saying is this: Do not blame farmers for the money they receive. Part of the reason this subsidy programs exist is to keep the food you buy in the grocery store cheap. In the U.S., we only spend roughly 9.5 percent of our disposable income on food, as compared to 23.4 percent in 1929. Even with the money you pay for food support to producers, it barely budges this figure.

Now please don’t misunderstand this: Not all nutrition programs are bad. I believe there are some people who legitimately need help, especially children (school lunch is included in the nutrition section).

However, I also believe there are millions of people who take advantage of this program simply because they can. Food stamp fraud does occur, with some people on food stamps selling these stamps and using the money to buy things like alcohol and tobacco. This is something I’ve seen firsthand. Be aware of where your money is going, and don’t blame the wrong people. Society wants cheaper food, and that is what is being provided.

Robyn Scherer is a graduate student studying integrated resource management. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:51 pm

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