Why the Farm Bill?
If you had the chance to reduce hunger in the U.S., strengthen rural communities, and help farmers in the developing world, wouldn’t you take it? In fact, we have just such an opportunity this year. One mammoth piece of legislation heavily impacts all three of these areas, and it is renewed just once every five years. Let me introduce (drumroll, please)… the Farm Bill!
U.S. Hunger and the Farm Bill
The largest expenditure in the Farm Bill, by far, is the nutrition program. Ninety-five percent of this goes to the Food Stamp program, our nation’s first defense against hunger. Food stamps allow low-income families and individuals to buy nutritious food. Food stamps are also an essential safety net for households who experience natural disasters. After the Katrina and Wilma hurricanes, 4 million additional families used food stamps to avoid hunger.
In our country today, 11.4% of households are hungry or at risk of hunger. This means that, while they are not dying of starvation, there are days when they skip meals because they cannot afford to buy food. The Food Stamp Program helps to combat hunger, but it does not do enough. Half of the households who receive food stamps still report hunger. Perhaps this is because the average monthly Food Stamp benefit per participant equals $92.72, or $1.03 per meal!
Bread for the World wants to increase benefits and participation in the Food Stamp Program, as well as provide incentives for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. This is a great opportunity to improve the food security and nutrition for poor people in this country.
Rural Communities in America
When you think of rural America, do you picture farmers? Today, 50 million Americans live in rural communities; only 3 million of them are farmers. Many rural communities are struggling to keep up with the changing economy. The poverty rate in rural America is 14%, and the child hunger rate is a horrifying 20%! If we want to address rural poverty, we must examine the whole picture.
In the last Farm Bill, only 3% of the budget went to rural development. Bread for the World is asking for an increase in this budget, to allow for local incentives to revitalize rural towns, to provide resources and incentives for rural entrepreneurs, and to increase telecommunications and Internet access in rural areas.
While rural development got only a sliver of the pie, 21% of the last Farm Bill budget went to commodity payments for farmers. The wealthiest 10% of farmers received 66% of the payments. In other words, most of the money went to the farmers who needed the least! Bread is asking that the commodity payment program be more efficient, so that government support can go to those who need it most.
Farmers in Developing Countries
The vast majority of the world’s poor and hungry people work in farming. Our commodity payment program hurts them when the world agricultural market is flooded with cheap American crops. Our commodity payment program pays farmers based on how much they produce, encouraging them to produce more than the market demands. Farmers in developing countries cannot compete with these artificially low prices for agricultural products and often cannot make a living anymore from their farms.
Our trade-distorting commodity payment program is ruining the livelihoods of many farmers in the developing world. Bread for the World wants to reform this program in the next Farm Bill, so that we help the American farmers who are struggling instead of encouraging the largest commercial farms to overproduce. This, in turn, would allow farmers in the developing world to earn a living. It’s a win-win situation!
The 2007 Farm Bill has great potential to reduce hunger and poverty both in the U.S. and internationally. Many people, churches, and organizations from all over the political spectrum are working together to revise this legislation to better our nation and the developing world. Whether you are a long-time activist or this is your first introduction to Bread, the 2007 Farm Bill promises to be an exciting opportunity to impact world hunger.
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