Why Are Food Stamps Considered an Agricultural Program?
April 14, 2015
Despite its name, the farm bill covers more than just agricultural programs. In reality, food stamps account for about 80 percent of the projected cost of the 2014 farm bill.
The combined farm bill helps legislators to avoid accountability for supporting agricultural programs or food stamp legislation. For example, a legislator who otherwise would oppose food stamp legislation can point to agricultural programs as the reason for voting for the farm bill. If the legislator's constituents strongly oppose food stamp legislation, the unrelated agricultural programs give the legislator cover for the farm bill vote.
This lack of accountability and motivation for reform helps to maintain the status quo. Unless the programs are considered separately, reform will be difficult. Legislators should be expected to address these different programs independently so that they can be properly analyzed and debated. Here is what they could do:
- Food stamps should be authorized through fiscal year (FY) 2016, while the agricultural programs would remain authorized through FY 2018. This would help to ensure that the programs would not overlap in the near future and would not be reauthorized together in a single piece of legislation.
- Move the food stamp program to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The best way to ensure separation for the long term is to move food stamps from the Department of Agriculture to HHS. The food stamp program is a large, means-tested welfare program, similar to the numerous other welfare programs run by HHS. This would place food stamps in the department best suited to administer it.
Members of Congress need to thoughtfully discuss significant issues regarding agricultural programs and food stamps. If these issues are considered separately, thoughtful discourse and potential reforms could become a reality. All Americans from farmers to taxpayers to food stamp recipients deserve nothing less.
Source: Daren Bakst, "Congress Should Separate Food Stamps from Agricultural Programs," Heritage Foundation, April 7, 2015.
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