After years of wrangling, the U.S. Senate voted 68-32 Tuesday in favor of a farm bill currently poised to be signed by President Obama.
Though the bill has some positive features including new conservation requirements for farm businesses that collect crop insurance subsidies and more funding for local and organic farmers, critics say the bad far outweighs the good.
Though not as drastic as the $40 billion in food stamp cuts that House Republicans had initially demanded, the final bill cuts food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by $8.7 billion over ten years.
Putting that figure in context, MSNBC's Ned Resnikoff writes, "It’s official: 850,000 households across the country are set to lose an average of $90 per month in food stamp benefits."
Following news of the passage, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he was "very disappointed" about the SNAP cuts, adding that it is "both morally and economically wrong to cut assistance to families in a very difficult economy."
"Our latest report shows that SNAP is the only defense against the wolves of hunger for 1.2 million jobless families," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, reacting to passage of the bill. "With record numbers of children in poverty, Congress should be launching a war on child poverty and strengthening the safety net for children including SNAP."
"It is shameful that Congress continues to treat poor Americans like second class citizens by cutting supports they desperately need,” she added.
In contrast to the assistance stripped from struggling families, as Environmental Work Group (EWG) reports, the final iteration of the farm bill hands "largely unlimited subsidies" to the largest and most successful farm operations "at the expense of family farmers and the environment."
Under the guise of cutting subsidies by repealing unpopular direct cash payments to farmers, the bill instead increases crop insurance subsidies by nearly $6 billion. Further, the final bill strips a provision that limited payouts to farmers that made over $750,000 in income.
As reporter David Dayen notes in the New Republic, by "referring to beneficiaries as 'farmers,' [the bill] underplays how giant agribusinesses really benefit from subsidized crop insurance."
He adds that by stripping the limits on payouts, "the richest businesses reap the most benefits" from the bill.
So the farm bill, far from “reforming” the process of well-heeled agribusinesses living off corporate welfare, actually locks that support in place through misdirection. It’s easier to denounce a farmer getting paid not to plant their field than to decry an overly generous insurance payout. Congress, particularly a Senate that over-represents rural agricultural states, knows well how to hide the ball in this fashion, keeping the focus on undeserving food stamp recipients rather than undeserving agribusinesses.