By Cameron M. Bray ’16
Congress passed the first farm bill in 1933, known as the Agriculture Adjustment Act, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The Act granted farmers subsidies for leaving certain parts of their land fallow and for killing excess livestock.
The Act’s purpose was to reduce crop surplus, and thus raise the low prices on crops that were threatening the agrarian lifestyle of farmers throughout the Great Depression.
Although the original farm bill was deemed unconstitutional in 1936, additional farm bills have been continually passed by Congress.
The most recent of these is the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill.
President Barack Obama signed the farm bill into law Feb. 7 since the previous farm bill, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, had expired in 2012.
The bill as it stands is a woeful disappointment that curtails important benefits for the poor.
Most notably, it will cut $800 million, or about one percent, from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which spends $80 billion annually, according to The Huffington Post.
Over a decade, this bill is expected to save the United States about $16.6 billion, with $8 billion coming from the cuts to the food stamps program, according to The New York Times.
On paper, the cuts almost seem like a good thing.
After all, $16.6 billion over a decade is a lot of money, but we must also study the bill’s longterm ramifications.
Currently, 47 million U.S. citizens receive food stamps, according to Yahoo News.
The cuts will cause four percent of recipients, or 850,000 families, to lose $90 a month, according to The New York Times.
As of July 2013, the population of Malta, a small European island nation, is approximately 411,277 people, according to the CIA web-site.
That makes the number of families affected by the cuts a little more than twice the population of the entire island nation.
Truly, that is a lot of people affected by the proposed cuts.
As a student of a Jesuit school, it is my duty to advocate for helping the less-fortunate, such as the feeding of the hungry through programs such as food stamps.
Still, the bill makes strides in other areas.
It will eliminate subsidies called direct payments, which can encourage idleness since farmers are paid regardless of whether or not they grow crops.
Additionally, direct payments cost about $4.5 billion annually, according to The Washington Post, and these costs will be saved by the farm bill.
Unfortunately, most of the savings are being redirected to create new subsidies and expand crop insurance.
Finally, the farm bill will pool its remaining funds in to many important ventures such as conservation, rural development, renewable energy and crop research.
As a whole, the success of the farm bill, because it depends on many unpredictable variables, such as weather and the very nature of the agricultural market, will largely weigh upon chance.
And yes, while the cuts have obvious downsides, the rejection of the farm bill would bring the legislation back to Congress, which is arguably a dicier endeavor.
As the result of a two-year congressional impasse the bill is already late. Let’s not interfere with this bill any further.
Let’s wait until 2018, when the bill expires, and then we can make a decision with everyone’s best interests in mind.