The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report this week that illustrates the staggering level of food insecurity in this country. In fact, the report indicates that in 2009, as many as 15% of U.S. households, that’s 17.4 million families, lacked enough money to feed themselves at some time last year. Even more unbelievable is that 6.8 million of those families, representing about 1 million children, missed meals regularly in 2009 due to financial troubles.
These numbers, however large, have evidently stabilized after the tremendous jump that started back in 2006 and grew during the recent recession. USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon was attributed in a Los Angeles Times story as saying that the findings underscore the importance of federal and state programs to create a safety net to help families and children access food during sour economic times.
That term sounds familiar…a “safety net to help families” is pretty darn similar to a “safety net to help family farmers.”
The survey results came amid growing concern about the demand for federal food subsidies. This month, USDA officials announced that the number of Americans getting food stamps hit a record of 42.4 million in August, a 17% gain year over year. Subsidies provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) jumped in July by a similar amount, 17.5%. That equates to about 1 in 8 Americans receiving food stamps.
Understanding the social implications of this situation are vast, we’ll respectfully put that discussion aside for now and think about the implications this situation will bring to the upcoming Farm Bill debate.
Consider this: ag programs comprise only 2.15% of the Federal Budget. Yes, that’s right, less than 3% of all monies in the budget go to agriculture. AND THAT INCLUDES NUTRITION AND FOOD AID PROGRAMS like the food stamp (SNAP) and WIC programs.
That 2.15% of the budget breaks down like this in the Farm Bill: 1.62% goes to nutrition and food aid programs, .19% goes to crop insurance, .15% goes to conservation programs, and the remaining .15% goes to commodity programs.
All that considered, how do you think the new Congress will look at the 2012 Farm Bill? Despite their relative small portion of the cost, can farm program payments be maintained and defended in this climate?