JBF Impact News: Let the Budget Games BeginKatherine Miller
February 22, 2018
In her latest dispatch, our senior director of food policy advocacy Katherine Miller responds to the Trump Administration’s recent budget proposal, highlighting potential threats to assistance programs for low-income families, farmers, and foreign aid, and calling for all American eaters to stand up and speak out.
Congress spent the winter averting government shutdown after government shutdown, and just as President Trump signed a two-year budget deal into law, his Administration released his new blueprint for government spending. For many, “An American Budget” is the first look at the true priorities of this Administration.
The view isn’t pretty.
Before diving into the problematic details of what the President, the United States Department of Agriculture, and other agencies are proposing, it is important to keep in mind some key facts:
- The current Farm Bill will expire in September 2018. This nearly $1 trillion spending bill sets the agenda for almost every aspect of our national food policy, including funding for various programs designed to make sure that Americans don't go hungry.
- 46 million people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This includes over 10 million women and families, 20 million children, and 15 million U.S. military veterans.
- Around $65 billion is spent each year at local food stores throughout America, and more than 260,000 local businesses can create new jobs as a result of SNAP spending.
- For the last four years, Farm Bill programs supported new, young farmers, helped spur investments in local food-related businesses in more than two dozen cities, and helped improve the health and wellbeing of millions through the increased distribution of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
- In addition to helping to feed the hungry, America's farmers also benefited from crop subsidies, crop insurance, and conservation programs to help preserve agriculture lands for generations.
With the release of “An American Budget,” President Trump has signaled his intention to gut, and in many cases, wholly eliminate many of these proven initiatives. All the progress over the last decade, including an increase in more than $100 billion in agriculture production, could be lost.
This is not a drill.
While there is a long way between what this plan proposes and the passage of the individual pieces of legislation needed to turn it into law, Americans have to make it clear that these cuts are untenable— otherwise, Congress may move forward on them.
By all accounts, Congress was taken aback by the swift, negative reaction to a proposal in the budget called "America’s Harvest Box." The idea, to send a SNAP recipient a box of dry and pre-packaged goods, was eviscerated by experts from the technology sector, conservatives, and hunger advocates. It would, according to experts, “decimate local communities and exacerbate the problem of food deserts in low-income areas, particular communities of color,” ultimately creating both individual and public health concerns.
The box may have just been a distraction, though. While Twitter and the media exploded with commentary, Farm Bill negotiators were meeting to plan additional hearings and discuss cuts to SNAP by nearly 30 percent ($17.2 billion in 2019 and $213.5 billion over the next ten years). Experts think this could result in four million people losing the kind of vital aid that helps to ensure that Americans don’t go hungry.
Legislators are also considering the elimination of global food aid programs that both help to prevent famines in other countries and also benefit American farmers.
This is all shortsighted and, frankly, mean. America is a global food producer. Our food economy generates trillions of dollars and millions of jobs. Over the last decade, we've reduced government fraud—no one is buying lobster with SNAP funds—and helped to reduce hunger nationwide.
Together with farmers, advocates, business leaders, and non-profit organizations, we can make sure that no American—especially women, children, and veterans—are forced to go hungry.
We’ll continue to work with organizations such as Food Research Action Center, Food Policy Action, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to try and stop these measures from being enacted. But it is clear that the most important voices Congress and the Administration need to hear are from farmers, families, chefs, and community leaders. We encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions with your members of Congress. We know it works.
Katherine Miller is JBF’s senior director of food policy advocacy. Find her on Twitter.