Why farm bill matters to you
Why farm bill matters to you BY KAREN SHUEY, Staff Writer
Farmers across the country, and here in Lancaster County, are closely following the battle in Congress to pass a five-year federal farm bill.
But it's not an issue that farmers alone should be paying attention to.
The farm bill is a massive piece of legislation comprising everything from farm subsidies -- which affect prices at the grocery store -- to energy, food stamps and school lunches.
With big disagreements in Washington over specific provisions of the bill, local farmers, business leaders and welfare officials are unsure what the future will hold.
The bill was rejected in the House on Thursday, amid opposition from both sides of the aisle.
And federal lawmakers who represent Lancaster County are offering little insight into how a compromise can be reached. The three Republicans oppose the bill, while the lone Democrat supports it.
This is the third year in a row that Congress has been trying to push a bill through, but negotiations break down when it comes to figuring out where to cut costs.
Meanwhile, the agriculture industry continues to plow forward.
The industry generates about $1 billion to Lancaster County's economy, supporting tens of thousands of jobs.
Lancaster County Commissioner Dennis Stuckey, who serves on local and statewide agriculture boards, said having a federal bill in place would give some relief to area farmers.
"Whether you like all the provisions or not, at least it provides certainty for farmers and agri-business leaders for the next five years," he said.
A plan did pass in the Senate, with Pat Toomey voting against it and Bob Casey voting for it. The House, however, failed to deliver a bill after conservatives objected to the bill's cost and progressives protested cuts to food stamps.
Tom Baldrige, president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, said he's not surprised at the impasse in Congress.
Part of the problem, he said, is that there's so much in the farm bill.
It covers price supports for commodity crops, conservation programs, food assistance programs for the poor, direct and guaranteed loans to farmers and ranchers, forestry programs and programs promoting renewable fuels such as ethanol.
"For better or for worse, this bill is so comprehensive that it often pits industries against each other to better their positions," Baldrige said.
The Senate bill called for roughly $3.6 billion a year in cuts, while a House version considered Thursday would have saved $6.7 billion annually.
Much of the savings comes from eliminating annual subsidies, which are frequently criticized for redistributing wealth from taxpayers to often well-off farm businesses and landowners.
But the largest chunk of the farm bill in dollar terms goes to the $80-billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps.
To boost savings, House Republicans led an effort to cut $2 billion, or 3 percent, annually in food stamps. It would also make it harder for some people to qualify.
Many Democrats lined up against the overall bill because of the provision, arguing that the reductions could kick as many as 2 million needy recipients off the rolls.
Republican Reps. Joe Pitts and Pat Meehan voted for the cuts, but said they didn't go far enough.
The program has doubled in cost in the last five years and now feeds 1 in 7 Americans.
In Lancaster County, nearly 56,000 adults and children receive food stamps. To qualify for the program, individuals must make less than $1,490 a month and a family of four less than $3,073.
"I've visited nearly every food cupboard in the 16th District, and I know how important nutritional programs are to many in our community," Pitts said. "However, we need to make sure that assistance is getting to the truly needy and that we are funding these programs at a sustainable level."
nStalled measure would impact consumers and farmers alike here.