Policy Focus: The Budget Stalemate Continues in Congress
[This piece originally appeared in Bread for the World's July-August e-newletter.]
On June 27, the Senate approved the most far-reaching reforms to U.S. immigration policy in 50 years. The Senate’s immigration reform bill passed 68-32. Bipartisan support gave the proposal momentum even as it faces a more daunting challenge in the House of Representatives. The bill includes most of the major components of an immigration overhaul: an earned legalization process for 11 million unauthorized immigrants, increased enforcement both at the border and inside the United States, and a revamped guest worker program for both low-skill and high-skill sectors.
The Senate bill does not address root causes of undocumented immigration, such as poverty in countries of origin. However, it will reduce hunger and poverty of immigrants in the United States.
The farm bill remains a main focus of our efforts to ensure a place at the table for all people. During this time of slow economic recovery, more than 47 million of individuals across the United States rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is funded through the farm bill.
The current farm bill deadline is this September. As of press time, the Senate has passed a bipartisan farm bill that includes $4 billion in cuts to SNAP and some international food aid improvements. Meanwhile, the House failed to pass a bill that included over $20 billion in cuts to SNAP and $2.5 billion in cuts to international food aid. It is unclear how the farm bill process will move forward. Congress could take a number of routes, from having the House rewrite its bill, to considering the Senate bill on the House floor, to extending the current law.
Although the House bill failed, several amendments that passed during floor considerations are cause for concern. For example, the Southerland Amendment would impose harsh work requirements on all SNAP recipients. The Reed Amendment would ban ex-offenders from receiving SNAP. In addition, some influential lawmakers have recently floated the idea of splitting the farm bill and administering SNAP separately. This appears to be an effort to reduce funding for SNAP—which Bread would oppose.
In May, the Senate passed its discretionary spending allocations for fiscal year 2014, which was drafted with the assumption that the Budget Control Act of 2011—commonly referred to as sequestration—will be replaced and that scheduled cuts will not go into effect next year. The Senate appropriations spending cap is roughly $1 trillion.
In late June, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its agriculture appropriations bill, with healthy funding levels for programs that help hungry people:
- $7 billion for the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program—$215 million above FY 2013
- $1.46 billion for international food aid—$33 million above FY 2013
- $185 million for McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program—$1 million above FY 2013
The bill also includes modest changes to international food aid. It eliminates approximately 17 percent of monetization—sale of commodities purchased in and shipped from the United States. This change would help support local farmers and markets. The bill also includes an $18 million increase in emergency funds.
Unfortunately, the House is operating under the assumption that sequestration will remain in place—leaving a gap of $10 billion between the Senate and House bills and making it hard to see how legislation will move forward. As of press time, the House has not drafted or passed its agricultural appropriations bill.
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