Digging Deeper


Food for thought on Thanksgiving: food help in the Farm Bill

To call my family’s Thanksgiving meal a feast is like saying Madonna has had an interesting career.

The 16 members of our extended family will get the usual line up: my mother’s “Party Potatoes,” roasted-garlic white magic; my sister’s perfect, buttery homemade rolls that taste like love; at least six side dishes in which a dozen cans die and fill up the recycling bin; my brother-in-law’s offering of three kinds of meat- regular turkey, smoked turkey and ham with a tart cherry sauce; two kinds of pie, cookies and cake for dessert, served at about the same time the loud groaning begins.

So let’s just say that it’s hard for me to understand hunger.

I know it’s a cliché, but I want to think about those who don’t have enough to eat on this week when we all get too much of it.

As we read about the frustration over Congress’ failure to pass a Farm Bill before the election, it’s important to remember why. As we reported extensively on our Farm Bill Countdown page, the 2012 Farm Bill was passed out of the Senate but was eventually halted by House Speaker John Boehner, who held it up because some in his caucus thought the cuts to food stamps didn’t go far enough.  The House Ag Committee wrote a bill that cut food assistance by $16.5 billion over ten years, which would slice up to 3 million people from the rolls.

Most people believe that there needed to be reforms to the food stamp program, called Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. There has been an effort on the part of USDA to cut down on fraud, and payment errors are down to a record low of 4.36 percent, according to this Government Accountability Office report.

We all have stories of seeing abuse at the grocery store, watching as some people pay for junk food with their government card. But I’m here to argue that those anecdotal stories are rare, and the people who truly need these benefits are the ones we never see.

According to the USDA, those who are using SNAP benefits are mostly white (36 percent) single parents with children (55 percent). They are also old (15 percent) and poor and disabled (20 percent).

I would also suggest that we need to remember that this country has been in a recession, so those people using food assistance has grown – that’s a fact. But that doesn’t mean that those using SNAP will continue to grow. In fact, the influential Center on Budget Policy and Priorities reports that as the economy gets better, food assistance needs will lessen.

Contrary to proponents’ claim that the bill’s SNAP cuts are needed to rein in program growth, CBO has found that SNAP’s expansion in recent years primarily reflected the severe recession and that SNAP spending will fall significantly as the economy recovers.  CBO projects that the share of the population that participates in SNAP will fall back to 2008 levels in coming years and that SNAP costs as a share of the economy will fall back to their 1995 level by 2019.

So that’s just some food from my thoughts as Congress gets back to work on the Farm Bill and we all get ready to sit down to our annual Thanksgiving meal. What do you think? Click here to share your thoughts on food assistance in the Farm Bill.

Now please pass the Pepto-Bismol.