Wednesday, May 14, 2008

AG Secretary Fumbles on Farm Bill Nutrition Title

As Congress rallies for bipartisan votes to pass the Farm Bill and, if so, override of a Presidential veto, the Bush administration continues to display a fundamental misunderstanding of the bill’s nutrition title and the inefficiency of nutrition provisions under the 2002 Farm Bill. The current bill would increase nutrition spending by $10.3 billion over 10 years, while increasing the standard income deduction for food stamp eligibility to more fully account for current inflation for the first time since 1996. The bill would also index benefits to inflation rates and raise the minimum monthly benefit from $10 to $14. Despite these desperately-needed reforms, in a May 9 press conference, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer questioned whether increased food stamp access was intended to make the government “feel good about taking care of people,” asking, “in a time when we have a fairly decent sized percentage of people who are eligible for the food stamp program and are not participating…why would we expand eligibility to the program?” Schafer fails to note that food stamp enrollment has increased in response to the flailing economy, but that the federal government still needs to address the administrative barriers to access that have prevented eligible families and individuals from receiving benefits. A successful veto could result in a two-year extension of the 2002 Farm Bill, which would accelerate the current food crisis and leave millions of Americans with insufficient benefits. It is extremely troubling that, as the food costs soar and the gap between rich and poor Americans increases daily, Schafer is asking “do we really have a problem here?”

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