Politicians finally have reached a compromise on a new federal farm bill, which provides crucial supports for Iowa farmers. The outcome is both promising and discouraging.
The latest version of the farm bill has support from both parties in Congress, as well as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The House and Senate approved it this week, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.
The primary sticking point in negotiations during the past several months was a proposal from Republicans to impose restrictions on families benefiting from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, including a work requirement for single parents with children as young as 6.
This board has been highly critical of efforts to limit accessibility to food assistance programs such as SNAP, especially when they would jeopardize the health of young Iowans. The changes put forth by House Republicans could have pushed more than a million low-income households off the program, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
If families with children don’t have enough healthful food to eat, they face countless other challenges, many of which the government will ultimately end up paying more to address. And federal analysts estimate every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.80 in total economic activity. Protecting this valuable program is imperative.
So we were relieved to see odious new SNAP restrictions are not included in the latest version of the farm bill. The legislation does include at least one important SNAP reform by creating a new federal database meant to identify anyone receiving SNAP benefits from multiple states. Any savings uncovered will go back into food assistance programs. That seems like a reasonable compromise between SNAP champions and those concerned with possible waste and abuse.
There are several other changes in the farm bill that Iowans should closely track in coming months and years.
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We are glad the law will include permanent federal support for farmers markets, protect conservation efforts and legalize industrial hemp production. Proposals pushed by Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, will direct federal attention to broadband and emergency services in rural communities.
However, we are deeply troubled by a GOP legislative maneuver to limit Congressional oversight on military involvement in Yemen.
We also are concerned with new provisions to loosen controls on farm subsidies, such as allowing federal aid for family members who don’t perform farm work. The legislation does nothing to curtail the flow of excessive taxpayer funds to what are effectively large corporate farms.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said this week in explaining his “no” vote that the bill was “intentionally written to help the largest farmers receive unlimited subsidies from the federal government.”
Nevertheless, the compromise bill is the best option we have. Enough uncertainty already faces farmers enduring slumping commodity prices, as well as food-insecure families juggling a slew of economic troubles. A new farm bill will give Iowans one less thing to worry about.
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