The last time Republican members of Congress tried to separate the SNAP program or food stamps from the farm bill they almost scuttled what eventually became the Agricultural Act of 2014 or the 2014 farm bill.
Now the Republican Platform Committee has included language recommending a similar action in the document it passed during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway is not happy with it.
“Republicans in the Platform Committee this past week decided they wanted to split the farm bill and the nutrition programs and consider them separately,” Rep. Conaway, a Republican from Texas, said during a speech to the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Destin, Fla., Saturday (July 23). “That’s a process statement; that’s not really a platform issue.
“I’ll probably get in deep trouble with my platform committee but platforms ought to be about policy and not about process, and that’s simply about process. I can’t stand here today and tell you whether that process will work or not.”
Rep. Conaway reminded his audience that some in Congress tried to split the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP from the farm bill in 2013. The Senate subsequently passed a farm bill that included SNAP and the final bill was approved in conference and sent to the president.
“We’ll have to have that conversation when we consider the new farm bill and to make that kind of a hard, fast decision that you want to do that today is wrong-headed. We don’t know all the variables. We’ll see how that works out.”
The House Ag Committee chair voiced a concern the motivation for the splitting the farm bill and SNAP may be to defeat them both.
Getting it done
“If that’s the motivation for people who want to split them, then I understand that,” he said. “I got it – that’s what you’re trying to do. My job is to get it done.”
The general session in which Rep. Conaway spoke followed the annual Peanut Efficiency Awards Breakfast, which was sponsored by Southeast, Delta and Southwest Farm Press and the National Peanut Board.
Brandon Belch, who with his father and mother, Mike and Cindy Belch, won the Peanut Efficiency Award for the upper Southeast for 2016, talked about growers using every tool available – including social media – to tell their story.
“One of the speakers earlier this morning talked about telling the great story that is production agriculture,” said Rep. Conaway. “The current system in place delivers the most abundant, safest and affordable food and fiber supply of any developed nation in the world. So whatever we’re doing right now is working for the American consumer.”
Americans pay, on average, 9.8 percent of their disposable income for food, both restaurant and food purchased at the grocery store, he noted. “That belies the fact that at the bottom of the economic food chain that 20 percent at the bottom pays 35 percent of their disposable income.
“That mother in that circumstance uses her food budget for flex because her rent payment or house payment doesn’t change, her car payment doesn’t change so if something happens to that family during the month she takes money out of the food budget to fix that and adjusts so the kids can eat.”
‘Shame on us’
The children don’t know that, he said. “They’re just little folks running around, but that Mom knows. She’s struggling with that; she’s under that pressure. Those families out there living paycheck to paycheck, and there are lots of them, they’re getting the best deal anyone can get in the world when they go to the grocery store. I don’t want to damage that.”
As Congress begins debating the next farm bill in 2018, Conaway said, his question every time will be “What does it do to the cost of food? What does it do to people who are having to struggle to make ends meet. If we’re just changing something arbitrarily and capriciously, and it raises the cost of food, then shame on us.
“The system we have now works, and before you start dismantling it and tossing it over the side of the ship, understand what impact it has on Americans who are trying to make ends meet, and we’re doing it with men and women in America who are among the best and hardest working and most incredible risk takers on the face of the earth.”
For more information on the conference, visit https://spgc.wordpress.com/