Texans pride themselves on being “Number One.” After all, the state has long been ranked No. 1 in cattle, cotton, sheep and goats, wool and mohair and hay production. In addition to rural production, Texas cities have been ranked No.1 in job growth, No.1 for business success, and the state has been ranked No.1 for oil and gas production.
Texas is also No.1 when it comes to the number of tacos served up in restaurants each day, No.1 in the number of Aggie jokes, and ranked No. 1 for the severity and frequency of student parties on campus. Add the top ranking for the most executions, most miles driven between points of origin and destination, and No.1 in spending money on sporting events. More Twinkies are fried at the Texas State Fair each year than in any other state and Texans drink nearly twice as much sweet iced tea as any other state (with a squeeze of lemon please).
Not all things that glitter are gold you see. While the Lone Star State leads the way in many positive and a few outrageous categories, one of them is not in the number of families who are “food secure,” meaning that many (one in five) Texas families do not, according to the latest USDA numbers, have enough food to eat without having to rely on emergency food supplies, scavenging or stealing food. The Texas rate exceeds the national average by almost four percent in fact, and is the third highest rate of “food insecurity” in the country.
When Congress finally takes up the new farm bill issue again, food security will be a major part of the overall package. That’s nothing new. That has always been the case, ever since the food stamp program—as it was once called—came into existence. Now known as the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, or SNAP for short, the program provides vouchers for food for low income families. This might include individuals who live on fixed incomes, the unemployed and under-employed, the disabled, and those, for whatever reason, are limited by income to provide enough food for themselves and their families.
Regardless of your political stand on social programs like SNAP, agricultural producers in Texas may see farm bill priorities advanced as a result of the SNAP program being part of the bigger picture. While many Congressional members are not farmer-friendly, having this particular social program as part of the overall bill could prove an advantage in advancing the bill to a conclusion.
Like most of the programs that fall under the farm bill umbrella, we can expect to see changes in levels of funding, and SNAP will be no exception. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been struggling with ways to reduce the federal debt. The Republican-led House has sought more aggressive spending cuts. It’s version of the farm bill includes a reduction of about $16.5 billion in SNAP funding. Even the Democratic-led Senate version would reduce SNAP funding by $4.5 billion.
The bottom line for at-risk American families is that there will be less money for available food assistance going forward, and how these families will replace this assistance remains unknown.
But if there is any good news to come out of the issue, it may well be that Congress must address the farm bill issue soon to avoid having food assistance programs fail, leaving millions of Americans without adequate food for survival.
The farm bill expires at the end of the month and Congress is in session only 11 days this month. If the farm bill issue isn’t resolved by that deadline, chances are good Congress will authorize a temporary extension that would delay a final decision until after the November election.
Such a move would create a hardship for farmers who will be trying to make their 2013 crop decisions and to secure financing for the new year. But if the Congressional track record over the last year is any gauge at all, we may see a great deal more indecision before a final resolution is ever reached. It seems that party loyalty weighs heavier with our elected leaders than the welfare of the nation. If they aren’t concerned over the millions of Americans who depend on food assistance to feed their children, it is little wonder that they do not care about farm bill issues and the men and women who grow our nation’s food.