Since 1993, Congress has passed a bipartisan farm bill every five years. With the next farm bill due before the end of September, lawmakers now are in the thick of heated discussions that will affect all Iowans, agriculture producers or not.
Iowa is home to some of the finest corn, soybeans, eggs and pork in the nation and the world. In recent years an even more diversified agriculture base has appeared and begun to expand. Producers, large and small, exist in every region of Iowa, and drive about a third of our state’s economy.
And, make no mistake, all of those producers are under new pressures. Not only have farm revenues taken a hit and commodity prices dropped, but many still are wondering when and how federal debate on trade and tariffs will affect their bottom lines. The men and women who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs need assistance. We’d argue that they also deserve it.
A comprehensive farm bill addresses all of these concerns and more. It’s the vehicle that has allowed local producers to dip into organic markets, organizations to prepare and train the next generation of food producers, local producers to survive natural disasters, and communities to afford the infrastructure necessary to keep Iowa products on the international stage. From conservation to trade, nutrition to energy, forestry to jobs and fields to Main Street, the farm bill balances broad geographic needs that are, at times, at odds and in competition.
The farm bill funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the nation’s major program to help low-income people and families afford a healthy diet. In 2016, SNAP served more than 44 million Americans. About 381,000 of the households served each month were Iowans. Households in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts receiving SNAP benefits had a median annual income of less than $22,000, although more than 82 percent of them were working.
The USDA estimates that every dollar of SNAP benefits results in $1.80 of total economic activity. Yet proposed policy changes not only endanger these benefits for an estimated 16,000 Iowans, many of them school-aged children, but mandate our already cash-strapped state to develop new and largely unnecessary administrative frameworks.
It’s been largely because of the farm bill’s multipronged approach — policies aimed at communities, producers and consumers — that past legislation has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. Hyper-partisanship is threatening to tip that delicate balance.
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As Congress now turns its attention to all of these critical issues as part of the 2018 farm bill, Iowans cannot afford the luxury of apathy. The stakes are too high, on too many fronts for Iowans to sit on the sidelines.
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