The Senate and House have reached a “compromise” on the highly debated Farm Bill that has been gaining attention in the houses of congress over the past several months. As part of their deal, in which congressional Republicans sought to tie the agricultural subsidies package to cuts in public services, an agreement has been reached which will cut both food stamps and conservation efforts by a combined $12 billion over the next ten years. The deal marks the first time in partisan history in which Democrats have actively voted to cut food stamps so as to support what many call “corporate welfare.”
With $8 billion in cuts to food stamps alone, the passage of the bill with its $7 billion increase in crop insurance subsidies is being seen by many in Congress as a simple diversion of funds and resources from programs set in place to help the most needy, to yet another financial handout to big business. As has been previously noted, among previous farm bill’s biggest subsidy recipients, many also can be found in Forbes’ list of America’s wealthiest individuals.
Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, said Tuesday he planned on voting against the bill. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, McGovern slammed the bill and it’s legislative supporters, taking aim at the big dollar handouts to the often large corporate farms by saying, “Instead of going after crop insurance or some of the excessive payments going to various interests that don’t need them, they’re using SNAP as an ATM machine.”
McGovern’s comments echo sentiments expressed by many who’ve followed the progress of the bill. Many social justice advocates and public policy analysts who’ve expressed concern over the farm bill and its cuts to food stamps, conservation efforts and the little known adjustments to home heating and energy programs for low income families, citing that between the crop insurance subsidies and direct payments to farmers, analysis of policy claims from 2011 shows that in California alone it was only the top 20% of farmers who collected on subsidized farm insurance policy claims.
While speaking with The Real News’ Jessica Desvarieux, Jason Rano of the Environmental Working Group explored the issue of crop insurance and direct farm subsidies, noting a substantial lack of transparency in regards to direct farm subsidy handouts, as well as the reality of many claims for crop insurance being non-farmers. In their discussion, Desvarieux sought to probe on the possibility of such crop insurance policy claim payments going to Wall Street investment firms, which throughout the course of debate has routinely come up as a point of concern among policy analysts. Though Rano could not directly confirm these suspicions, he did elude to their possibility, noting the lack of transparency in the overall process.
[box type-“shadow”]”One of the issues we face is we’re not really sure where premiums subsidies go. What we do know is in 2011, 26 people in agribusinesses received at least $1 million in premium subsidies from the taxpayer, and 10,000 received at least $100,000 or more,” Rano said. “We also know that we subsidize the crop insurance industry upwards of $1.3 billion annually to sell these crop insurance policies and to administer them. But because there is a lack of transparency, we don’t know much about the individuals and agribusinesses receiving these subsidies.”[/box]
Though Congress and the American people consistently demand fiscal responsibility and transparency, it would seem as though it is only the people who take the issue seriously. With this blatant transitioning of priorities being the latest in a long string of taking from those in need to give more to those of means and the highly slanted benefit to the larger agro-businesses that are effectively built in to the appropriations bill, this latest farm bill is proving, if nothing else, that congressional priorities of catering to wealthier Americans at the expense of those most at risk are not only still in full swing, but are in a sense, more obvious than ever.
With over 47 million Americans participating in the SNAP program as of October, 2013, and with the national economy still proving to be a punishing exercise in household austerity and suffering for the majority of working Americans, many are wondering what if any virtue there is to be found in what is in effect yet another massive corporate handout.