Farm Bill delays could affect food benefits for many Americans

The once-every-five-year Farm Bill will likely be extended to six years this time around, as Congress seems months away from finding a path forward. The legislation governs an array of agricultural and food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, which Democrats typically want to expand and Republicans want to trim. Aaron Shier, director of government relations for the National Farmers Union, said SNAP is the nation’s most significant anti-hunger program, and the union is eager for Congress to pass a bill to protects and strengthen the program.

“It’s very much about those nutrition programs, making sure those nutrition programs remain strong,” Shier explained. “The Farm Bill’s been described as a ‘Swiss Army knife;’ there are many different tools to address many different challenges.”

Nearly 16% of Illinois’s 12.7 million residents are enrolled in SNAP. The current Farm Bill lapsed in October, but most lawmakers consider Jan. 1 as the last possible date for approving a new one. Congress also missed the scheduled Farm Bill approval date in 2012, leading to an extension. The Farm Bill also encompasses commodities, or basic goods and materials, as well as farm credit, rural development and conservation. Two decades ago, Congress embraced the Conservation Stewardship Program to pay farmers for making soil and water conservation part of their daily operations. In recent farm bills, funding has been cut significantly. Nonetheless, Shier pointed out his members consider conservation essential to agriculture because at its core, farming is about stewardship.

“That’s of our environment, of our climate — most farmers are great stewards — they want to be better,” Shier stressed. “They need those conservation programs to make sure those conservation measures are affordable.”

Environmental advocates want the bill to include more money for climate-smart farming to tackle wide-scale changes caused by global warming, while the GOP is focused on increasing subsidies for three specific Southern crops: peanuts, cotton and rice.

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