Politics & Policy

It’s Time to Reform Food-Stamp Policy

Dan Roberts inspects his corn crops during the harvest in Minooka, Ill., in 2014. (Jim Young/Reuters)
With no work requirements, the farm bill offers more of the same.

A  strong farming industry is vital to America’s economy and national security. With the ongoing tariff battle, there is no question that some federal assistance can help protect America’s farm economy. However, the farm bill passed yesterday by Congress undermines the interests of America’s taxpayers.

During the Great Depression, farm subsidies were created to keep family farms afloat and ensure a stable national food supply. Today, the farm bill has less to do with helping family farms than with maintaining the status quo and administering a plethora of food-assistance poverty programs as if the economy were still in crisis.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, total farm-bill spending from 2018 to 2028 is estimated to be $867 billion. Approximately 80 percent of that will be spent on food stamps, with only 20 percent directed to the farm economy. The farm bill should really be renamed the food-stamp bill. According to data from the Department of Agriculture, at a time when the economy is thriving and unemployment is at its lowest level in decades, more than 40 million people in the U.S. are using food stamps — more than the entire population of Canada.

America is a generous country. Americans want to help their neighbors in need. But welfare is a two-way street. Healthy adults without children at home should have to work to receive welfare benefits. The reason is simple: Work requirements work. Individuals who hold full-time employment are ten times less likely to be poor than people who are out of work during at least part of the year.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton implemented welfare reforms that were bipartisan. The success of these reforms has since been repeated in Maine, Kansas, Alabama, and Indiana, where the total number of able-bodied adults on welfare rolls decreased by as much as 60 to 80 percent. What’s more, those who left welfare have seen major increases in their income. In Maine, for example, those who left welfare for the workforce more than doubled their family income.

Despite evidence in support of welfare reform, work requirements that the House passed in June were eventually killed in conference committee with the Senate’s version of the farm bill. But consider this: Welfare reform is a winning issue across the country. According to a poll taken in April 2018 by the Foundation for Government Accountability, over 80 percent of Americans support work requirements for welfare recipients. Instead of lifting individuals out of poverty, Congress is maintaining the status quo and leaving millions of able-bodied adults on the sidelines of our strong economy.

Meanwhile, the farm portion of the farm bill expands subsidies to corporations and “off-site” farmers. The conferenced farm bill contains language that will significantly increase access to farm subsidies, allowing extended-family members of farmers who are “actively engaged” in farming operations to qualify to collect farm subsidies.

Language in the farm bill will also expand an existing loophole that, according to the Government Accountability Office, would allow 10 percent of farmers, corporations, and agribusinesses to receive 70 percent of federal subsidy payments. Many of these recipients are millionaires living in places such as New York City. This is fiscally irresponsible and callously unfair to the small family farmers the subsidies were meant for.

Our nation is more than $21 trillion in debt. Failure to hold recipients of taxpayer dollars accountable only exacerbates America’s spending crisis.

Finally, the House-passed language helped Ohio farmers by providing a clear legal definition of the term “waters of the United States” (a.k.a. “WOTUS”), over which the EPA has jurisdiction. The Obama administration used rule-making based on this phrase to massively expand federal jurisdiction over all the nation’s waterways. This action was so expansive that it was blocked by the federal courts as unconstitutional. Unfortunately, this leaves the Trump administration to make a new rule. While the new rule accomplishes similar results as the House-passed language, it will prove temporary and be subject to future executive redefinition. Congress should have provided legislative clarity by passing the House’s binding legal definition of WOTUS. Instead, Senate Republicans surrendered to Democrats.

As representatives of the American people, we have a responsibility to enact policies that will help and benefit everyone, not just a select few. Elected officials must steward taxpayer dollars responsibly. As leaders, we must help those in need to rise out of difficult circumstances. At every level, this bill undermines the ideals of the American people who sent us here in the first place, and we have done them a disservice by passing it in its current, weakened form.

Warren Davidson represents Ohio’s eighth district in the House of Representatives and serves on the House Financial Services Committee. He is a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

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