Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Imagine a Thanksgiving feast on $1.67 budget

Another year has gone by without Congress passing a new five-year farm bill.

House and Senate are no closer to a deal on a farm and food safety net than they were this time a year ago. A one-year extension on the 2008 farm bill expired on Sept. 30 with little notice. The government shutdown and threats of default on the nation’s debt grabbed all the attention.

That national distraction over, the House Republican leadership, unfortunately, remains determined to accomplish little, scheduling only seven work days in November and eight days in December. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants the House to adjourn for the year Dec. 13.

Any hopes of getting a farm bill done by Thanksgiving Day are gone; hopes for getting it done by Dec. 13 are dim. Same as last year, the big hangup is majority House Republicans seeking deep cuts to the food stamp program.

This comes as Americans struggling to put food on the table took an $11 per person cut in monthly food stamp benefits on Nov. 1, with the end of the 2009 stimulus bill. In California, the average monthly food stamp benefit per person dropped to $138 a month – $34.50 a week, $5 a day, $1.67 per meal. People trying to get by on such slim sums won’t have much of a feast on Thursday.

Even as House Republicans voted to whack the food stamp program, a Nov. 7 New York Times headline read, “Billionaires received U.S. farm subsidies, report finds.”

A search through congressional districts in this latest update of the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database reveals a disconnect in California’s Congressional District 1, represented by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale.

In his district, 15 percent of families are below poverty level, and 19,600 families, with a median income of $20,873, received food assistance in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

LaMalfa, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee and doesn’t miss many meals, voted with the Republican majority in July to strip food stamps out of the farm bill altogether and, in September, to cut $39 billion over 10 years, throwing 5 million people off food stamps.

At the same time, LaMalfa supported price guarantees for rice in the House farm bill. The LaMalfa Family Partnership, which grows rice, received $5.1 million in farm subsidies from 1995 through 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group’s database. In 2012, the LaMalfa clan received $188,570.

Certain farmers, apparently, deserve protection from the vagaries of life. The working poor, evidently, deserve much less.

The Senate and House bills would eliminate most direct payments to farmers – traditional farm subsidies – in favor of crop insurance, a good thing. The Senate version, however, does a better job of reining in unlimited crop insurance subsidies.

The Senate bill, which passed on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, would cut $3.9 billion from food stamps over 10 years. As we recover from the Great Recession, fewer families will need food stamps. Senate cuts reflect this. House cuts go way too far.

With political will and a little compassion at this time of year when we celebrate food and heed the needs of the unfortunate, the House and Senate should pass a farm bill by the time of Boehner’s Dec. 13 House adjournment.

Don’t drag this out another year. This nation needs a reliable food and farm safety net.