I’m a farmer, and I’m astounded.
Well, that claim about being a farmer is an exaggeration. Yes, I own the family farm. But someone else, thank goodness, farms it.
But I’m still astounded.
The U.S. House of Representatives, under the guise of cost cutting and fiscal responsibility, passed a farm bill that, for all intents and purposes, aids the rich and attacks the poor.
It aids the rich by keeping – and, in fact, increasing – abundant subsidies for agricultural producers, especially wealthy ones with large operations.
The House legislation would provide $200 billion for farm subsidies over the next 10 years. And this comes at a time when the agricultural sector is doing much better than many other parts of the economy.
For perspective, that’s roughly 10 times the amount that the earlier bank bailout ended up costing U.S. taxpayers. Yes, $700 billion was allocated for that bailout, but with the provision that it would be repaid over time, and it now appears that the real cost to taxpayers will be in the range of $21 billion.
The bill attacks the poor by putting an end to the longstanding agreement between agricultural interest and those committed to fighting against hunger and supporting nutrition among the poor in America.
Most everyone conceded that there were elements of waste and some fraud on both sides of the equation, but there was also consensus that, overall, the objectives of both sides were well served.
But that mutual back scratching is over.
Not just that, but in an earlier, failed attempt to pass a farm bill in the House, a faction of Republicans proposed cutting $20.5 billion from the budget that went to feed the hungry and provide nutrition to the poor – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) commonly known as “food stamps.”
The farm bill that subsequently passed the House didn’t include that cut, in part because the backers first wanted to end the agreement between rural and urban interests by removing the food stamp funding from the farm bill for the first time since 1973.
But the backers of drastic cuts for SNAP promised to bring up separate funding legislation sometime in the future and it is expected that the $20.5 billion will be the figure used to begin that debate.
That blatant disregard for the poor and the hungry is reason enough to be astounded.
But there’s more.
A recent study by the Health Impact Project – a research group located in Washington, D.C., that is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts – spells out some of the consequences of the proposed cuts.
A July 31, 2013, New York Times article titled “House Republican Proposal Would Cut Food Stamps For 5 Million, Study Finds,” summarizes the report and begins this way:
“Nearly half a million people who receive food stamps but still do not get enough to eat would lose their eligibility for the program under cuts proposed by House Republicans, according to a new report. An additional 160,000 to 305,000 recipients who get enough to eat would also lose their eligibility and the ability to adequately feed themselves. In total, about 5.1 million people would be eliminated from the program, the report found.”
The article proceeds to describe the health consequences: increases in “heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure among adults” and “higher rates of asthma and depression” in children.
It is astounding to this farm owner that an elected body of this nation – one that often claims its righteousness and moral superiority – could intentionally and flagrantly violate the basic code of ethics of all civilized people, to say nothing of the social teachings of the religious traditions represented in this nation.
The violation isn’t just against the poor and the hungry. It is also against the rich. At least that’s the teaching of my own Christian tradition.
Jesus told a parable about a rich farmer whose field produced harvest in such increasing abundance that, rather than sharing his harvest with those who were hungry and in need, chose to tear down his existing barns and silos and build new, larger ones.
The farmer, according to the story told by Jesus, said to himself, “Look, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
But then God enters Jesus’ parable, telling the rich farmer, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
That parable, whose truth isn’t limited to Christians, needs to be shared not only with farmers and the farm lobby in Washington, D.C, but also with the “fools” in the House of Representatives who are in favor of building larger barns and silos.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.