Lack of at­ten­tion to farm bill could spell hunger for many

We will con­tinue to keep pres­sure on our elected of­fi­cials in Congress to pass a farm bill that doesn’t bal­ance the bud­get on the backs of strug­gling, low-in­come and hun­gry Amer­i­can fam­i­lies.

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Green is se­nior di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy and pub­lic pol­icy, Cap­i­tal Area Food Bank of Texas.

Af­ter

an ex­haust­ing and bruis­ing elec­tion cam­paign, the time has come to re­unite and get back to the busi­ness of end­ing hunger. The farm bill, which ex­pired on Sept. 30, is still in limbo, mean­ing the fate of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans de­pend­ing on the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, or food stamps, to sur­vive is still un­known.

In­cluded within the farm bill is the reau­tho­riza­tion of fund­ing for food stamps. Ap­prox­i­mately 47 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are cur­rently re­ceiv­ing food stamps. Even here in Texas, as the so-called Texas eco­nomic mir­a­cle hasn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized for many, for­tu­nately one in seven, or 3.5 mil­lion, Tex­ans are able to put food on their ta­bles with the help of this pro­gram. The ma­jor­ity of food stamp re­cip­i­ents are chil­dren, the el­derly and those with dis­abil­i­ties.

Food stamps are fac­ing $16 bil­lion in cuts. Should the dras­tic House-pro­posed cuts pass, up to 303,000 Tex­ans stand to lose crit­i­cal nutri­tion ben­e­fits be­gin­ning Jan. 1, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get. What a sad way to bring in the new year.

Adding fur­ther in­sult to in­jury, Texas would also lose $37 mil­lion each month in food stamp ben­e­fits, which trans­lates to a loss of 16 mil­lion meals per month. The monthly loss to the Texas econ­omy would be $66 mil- lion, be­cause ev­ery $1 in Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram spend­ing pro­duces $1.79 in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

All of this will worsen our dis­mal hunger and poverty sit­u­a­tion in Texas. One in five Tex­ans live in a house­hold at risk of hunger. For chil­dren, it’s one in four.

Be­cause Congress failed to pass a bud­get and en­act leg­is­la­tion devel­oped by a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Deficit Re­duc­tion, au­to­matic spend­ing re­duc­tions and bud­get cuts, known as se­ques­tra­tion, are to be in­voked as of Jan. 1.

In Septem­ber, a pre­lim­i­nary out­line of how th­ese au­to­matic bud­get cuts would af­fect dif­fer­ent fed­eral pro­grams was re­leased. Th­ese au­to­matic manda­tory bud­get cuts to­tal $1.2 tril­lion and are evenly split over nine years be­tween de­fense and non­de­fense spend­ing. While many im­por­tant pro­grams that as­sist low-in­come Amer­i­cans are ex­empt from se­ques­tra­tion — in­clud­ing the Chil­dren’s Health In­surance Pro­gram, Child Nutri­tion Pro­grams, Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, and Tem­po­rary As­sis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies — dis­cre­tionary pro­grams such as WIC, the Women In­fants and Chil­dren pro­gram, will ex­pe­ri­ence a 9.3 per­cent ($543 mil­lion) cut.

While fed­eral nutri­tion pro­grams may es­cape the bud­get-cut­ting cross hairs, the buck­shot spray in across­the-board cuts will still im­pact the poor and hun­gry. Pro­grams af­fect­ing food prices, in­vest­ments in ed­u­ca­tion and health, and sus­pended tax cuts will make climb­ing out of poverty, and hence the food lines, even more dif­fi­cult.

We will con­tinue to keep pres­sure on our elected of­fi­cials in Congress to pass a farm bill that doesn’t bal­ance the bud­get on the backs of strug­gling, low-in­come and hun­gry Amer­i­can fam­i­lies. Congress should keep in mind that three-quar­ters of Amer­i­cans sup­port food stamps and op­pose cuts. That’s a lot of po­ten­tial vot­ers. And, af­ter all, that next elec­tion cam­paign has al­ready started.

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