Food Fight Ignores Purpose of Farm Bill

Updated 12/26/13

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The food fight on Capitol Hill reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day. Farm bill negotiations have been stuck for more than a year.

One battle is over money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The old name was food stamps. SNAP would receive about 80% of the bill’s funds.

The last farm bill passed in 2008 and expired last year. Several extensions followed. House Speaker John Boehner suggested yet another extension today.

Opponents claim qualification is easy and fraud is common. By now you’ve heard their favorite story about the boy who used his benefits to buy a lobster. Most recipients are moochers, and they’re draining our economy, these challengers cry.

But these claims are false, according to a report by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Relatively few SNAP errors represent dishonesty or fraud by recipi­ents. The overwhelming majority result from honest mistakes by recipients, eligibil­ity wor­kers, data entry clerks, or com­puter program­mers.”

Talks can’t move forward because the focus is on short-term costs instead of long-tem benefits. The first farm bill passed during the Great Depression to protect the country’s food supply.

Poor nutrition is a major factor that leads to long-term chronic illness and more than 75% of health care costs. Health care spending is 21% of the federal budget. But nutrition education is also on the chopping block.

All sides agree that health care costs must come down. By focusing on cuts instead of improvements, opponents can’t see a chance to move toward that goal.

my kind of Independence Day
circulating / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Improving access to more nutritious food is a better choice. Diets high in processed food lead to obesity and related diseases. Allotting money for gardening supplies could lead to permanent reductions in expenditures for both food stamps and health care.

With a new focus on improving population health, the latest food fight can serve as a springboard to move the country toward better physical and economic health.

12/6/13 Update: New information added about reasons for opposition to the Farm Bill.
12/16/13 Update: Congress passed a short-term extension of the Farm Bill.
12/26/13 Update: Corrected statements about SNAP being the main fight. Replaced comments about holistic health coaching with suggestion to increase access to nutritious food.

© 2013 – 2014, Jacqueline Laurette Jones. All rights reserved.

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