Keeping the Farm Bill a Food Bill
This week, the Senate is considering legislation that will affect if and how millions of Americans keep food on the table – the Farm Bill. Considered once every five years, the Farm Bill has a far-ranging impact on food in America and around the world, from foreign assistance and food safety, to environmental conservation and anti-hunger programs.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (right, D-NY) introduced an amendment to restore funding to SNAP and other anti-hunger programs in the 2012 farm bill. Image courtesy of Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press.
In April, the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released its thousand-page version of the Farm Bill (S. 3240), which is projected to save $23.6 billion over the next decade, bringing the total funding for the programs down to $969 billion from $992.6 billion. As the Washington Post pointed out on Monday, part of these savings reflects the spending cuts and reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, which was created by President Obama to make recommendations on reducing the deficit. Senators from both sides of the political aisle have given their blessing to this version of the Farm Bill – a feat not insignificant considering the highly partisan environment in those hallowed halls. But hidden in the satisfying-sounding savings of $23.6 billion is a dangerous secret: Nearly a quarter of these savings would come from cutting a whopping $4.5 billion to anti-hunger programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
In response, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has introduced an amendment to restore the $4.5 million in proposed cuts. With more than one of five children in America going to bed hungry, there is a great and unmistakable need for anti-hunger programs in our country – and Senator Gillibrand’s amendment would help prevent millions of individuals and families from confronting hunger.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that we must fight hunger not only individually, but also by working together as a community. Our sages explain that feeding the hungry is one of our most important responsibilities on earth: "When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry’" (Midrash to Psalm 118:17). The Talmud explicitly instructs that each Jewish community must establish a public fund to provide food for the hungry. Today, social safety net programs like SNAP, which helps individuals and families afford groceries, and TEFAP, which helps stock food pantries, are the equivalent of the public funds that the Talmud instructed us to establish in ancient times.
As the Farm Bill negotiations move forward in the Senate and the House of Representatives, it will become increasingly important to fight for the financial integrity of anti-hunger programs in the Farm Bill. Urge your Senator to co-sponsor Senator Gillibrand’s amendment and ensure that strong funding for SNAP and other anti-hunger programs are included in the Farm Bill. Send an email by clicking here.