The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Liberal members and advocates ask House to bring farm bill to vote

Three liberal House members said last week that House Republican leaders should bring the farm bill up for a vote even though they disagreed with the cut in food stamps that the House Agriculture Committee included in the bill.

Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Terri Sewell of Alabama all said the bill should come up before Congress goes home to campaign. They spoke at a news conference Thursday at which the Rural Coalition, the National Family Farm Coalition and other advocates for low-income farmers presented a petition signed by nearly 35,000 people urging Congress not to cut the food stamp program and to provide full funding for a program that reaches socially disadvantaged and minority farmers.

“I want a farm bill,” McGovern said, noting that he and other members of the House Agriculture Committee spent many hours in a markup session on the bill.

“I have problems with it,” added DeLauro, a former House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee chairman. “But it is a bill that came out of committee and it can be amended.”

Members with different views should have an opportunity to “fight it out” on the floor, she said.

But all three said that the cuts to food stamps had been unfair. Congress should listen to the “35,000 petitioners who have dared to make their voices heard,” said Sewell. The House Agriculture Committee-passed version of the bill is “woefully deficient,” DeLauro added.

The House Agriculture Committee-passed bill would cut food stamps by $16.5 billion over 10 years while the Senate-passed bill would cut it by $4.5 billion over 10 years. The food stamp program, now officially known as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP, is expected to cost between $70 and $80 billion per year.

McGovern said he would not vote for a farm bill that “guts” food stamps, and DeLauro said she is opposed even to the smaller cut in the Senate-passed bill. Asked if she would support a farm bill with a small cut to food stamps, DeLauro said, “A bad bill is a bad bill is a bad bill,” adding that it is always dangerous for legislators to assume that legislation they don’t like will be fixed in conference.

In addition to their concerns about food stamps, the petitioners are also asking for full funding of $150 million for the Section 2501 Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. The 2501 program is “the only program created by Congress to address the disparate land loss by ‘socially disadvantaged’ producers — meaning black, Latino, native American and other minority farmers and ranchers historically discriminated against [by] the USDA,” the petitioners wrote.

The rural advocates also urged the House leadership to bring up the bill.

Lorette Picciano, executive director of the Rural Coalition said the bill should be passed with amendments that help the smaller farmers. Her group is working with groups ranging from black farmers in Oklahoma, where farmers are losing crops to drought and grasshoppers, to immigrant farmers in Massachusetts that need more “high tunnels” (also known as hoop houses) so that they can grow vegetables in the winter.

Katherine Ozer of the National Family Farm Coalition noted that dairy farmers are particularly suffering without assistance that would be provided under a new farm bill.

Rudy Arredando, president of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, said his family farms in Ohio and he had a message for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio: “Stop hiding behind the gavel and get Congress to pass a fair farm bill.”