Farm Bill Update: Hungry Americans Need a Farm Bill

With the April 18 deadline quickly approaching for the passage of the new Farm Bill, legislators have yet to come up with a solution to fixing the bill’s budget. If Congress cannot pass this revised Farm Bill, the White House could refuse to support another 30-day extension and insist on a two-year extension of the 2002 Farm Bill, which contains inadequate funding to meet today’s needs. The budgeting issue still remains as Congress struggles to find ways to revise the budget before the deadline hits.

The budgeting issue affects not only farmers but consumers as well. “Hungry Americans cannot wait any longer,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest. With the increasing cost of food, hungry Americans are turning to food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries for help.

Another extension of the under-funded 2002 Farm Bill would be devastating to food banks, which are already facing increasing demand request for food assistance with minimal food supply on hand. Nearly 70 percent of the new Farm Bill deals with funding for federal nutrition programs that are now currently working under the 2002 budget. The new Farm Bill would bring relief to the food banks and low-income Americans through funding and improvements on federal food programs, including the Food Stamp Program. A portion of the proposed Farm Bill would increase funding for these federal nutrition programs.

"We are seeing absolutely tragic increases nationwide in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time ever,” said Escarra. “Meanwhile, more than 1.3 million more people are enrolled in food stamps compared to a year prior. Hungry Americans need a Farm Bill enacted now."

Food banks are relying on the passage of the new Farm Bill. Until then, they cannot develop their own operating budgets because they do not know what the impact of federal budget will be.

“Everybody should have the opportunity to eat and not worry where it is coming from,” said Dayatra Latin from a community food bank in California. “It’s the difference between whether or not we’re going to eat tonight. That’s how much that bill passing means to them.”

Farm Bill Update: Congress to Farmers: Have Patience

As Congress returns from their two-week spring recess, they are asking farmers to have patience with the Farm Bill now that President George W. Bush has signed a one-month extension.

House Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said, "I would ask them (the producers), first, please have patience. I wish we'd done better for you; we owe you better than we produced.”

Not only do the producers need to have patience but also the consumers and others affected by the bill. The cost of food has risen more than 5 percent in the first three months of this year. Food banks across the United States are running out of food and the Food Stamp Program is in danger of depleting its funds.

Without a Farm Bill in place, these problems will continue. Congress understands the ramifications of these problems, and that is why they are committed to getting the Farm Bill passed. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and the Senate-House Conference Committee on the bill said he is very positive the progress will be made.

“There is still a considerable amount of work ahead before we can pass a bill,” said Harkin. “This short-term extension will ensure America’s farm and nutrition programs continue until the new Farm Bill is completed.”

White House officials reported that Bush would veto a bill if it increases taxes. Congress is asking the Bush Administration to have more involvement with the Farm Bill to find ways to pay for a $10 billion spending increase in the new U.S. Farm Law.

In addition, Bush, recently issued a statement saying he would sign a one-year extension if Congress cannot agree on a bill by the new deadline of April 18.

Bush said that, “while long-term extension of current law is not the desired outcome, I believe the government has a responsibility to provide America’s farmers and ranchers with a timely and predictable farm program -- not multiple short-term extensions of current law.”