This month’s topic is a bit heavy. Bear with me. I want to talk about this little piece of federal legislation commonly called the "Farm Bill”. It is a complex piece of legislation that I will breakdown in simple “Bob” terms.
It has a “tricky” name! When you hear the term “Farm Bill”, you would think that the legislation is primarily targeted at farmers, and it is but it is much more. The Farm Bill is intended to help create a sound, consistent food delivery system for all. Every American including non-farmers feels the impact of the farm bill.
Food Security: America’s public investment in agriculture through Farm Bill programs helps secure our domestic food supply and keep our country strong while consumers get the benefits of high-quality, affordable food.
Jobs: The food and agriculture industry directly supports nearly 46.2 million U.S. jobs (that’s more than 14 percent of U.S. employment) and contributes more than $1 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product.
Conservation: The Farm Bill’s investment in ag research and conservation programs are critical to ensure the productivity and sustainability in our farms and domestic food supply.
Risk Management: We all depend on the success of American agriculture so it’s important for America’s farmers and ranchers to be supported by strong farm programs as they face down weather disasters, high supply costs, and inflationary pressures. Managing risk is critical to keep food on the table.
Addressing Hunger: The Farm Bill includes nutrition programs intended to ensure the most vulnerable among us have access to healthy, affordable food.
Every five years or so, farm bill legislation is debated, revised, and re-authorized by Congress. The first and original Farm Bill was created in the 1930s to help struggling farmers. The farm bill is primarily executed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and covers a multitude of agricultural and food programs. The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2023.
99% of the Farm Bill spending falls into four categories – nutrition, commodities, crop insurance, and conservation (less than 1% goes to forestry, bio-energy, extension/research, rural broadband, etc.).
By far, the greatest share of the funds within the farm bill goes to federal food assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and a bunch of other acronym programs. The next farm bill may reach $1.5 trillion (spread throughout its lifespan) with 81% of that spending total projected to be go to food nutrition assistance.
Feeding the hungry. I have never met someone who wants other people to go hungry. The Farm Bill helps prevent food and nutrition deficiencies for young and old alike.
Who are these people? According to a recent FarmWeek article, the Illinois Department of Human Resources (IDHR) reports that over 1.7 million Illinoisans are SNAP participants…
- About 44% of Illinois SNAP participants are younger than 18 years of age
- About 14% are adults age 60+
- About 8.5% are adults under 60 with disabilities
Some taxpayers want able-bodied adults to find gainful employment to move off SNAP support. That requirement was a big part of the recent debt ceiling debate and will feed into this Farm Bill debate.
A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill addressed historically underserved producers and farmers. The newly formed urban Cook County Farm Service Agency office with staff is a direct result. The underserved will receive additional scrutiny as a part of this 2023 Farm Bill debate.
Most fascinating to me are the curious “bedfellows” that come about as a result of Farm Bill legislation. Congressional members that have virtually nothing in common join together to pass this common cause. Urban legislators work in concert with rural legislators, and Democrats work with Republicans to craft a bill that touches multiple constituencies. Reauthorization of the Farm Bill has this way of bringing together advocates from both political parties and different ideological backgrounds, as well as hunger and food advocates, conservation advocates, and agricultural groups.
Why should the average American care? We all want and need a stable, quality, and affordable food supply for all Americans.