The Farm Bill is Dead, but the Fight for the Right to Food Continues

Yesterday, the Farm Bill was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives, as almost all the Democrats and around a quarter of the Republicans voted against it. The bill would have given $196 billion in subsidies to the farming industry, whilst cutting $21 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) – often referred to as the “Food Stamps” program.

The equivalent bill passed in the Senate last week, proposing $4 billion in cuts and incorporating the “Vitter Amendment”, which proposed barring people in particular need of assistance – those convicted of certain categories of criminal activity – from receiving SNAP benefits for life. The House debated a number of equally punitive amendments for recipients of SNAP, and ultimately passed an amendment by Representative Steve Southerland of Florida, which would have allowed states to mandate work and job training requirements for most adults who receive or apply for SNAP, or face having SNAP assistance revoked for their entire family. Although the bill itself was later defeated, the House’s approval of this amendment signals, at best, a confused understanding of the critical issues relating to food security that millions of people are facing in the United Sates and a dire misunderstanding of the government’s human rights obligations on this critical issue. Indeed, most SNAP recipients who can work do so, yet they are not paid a living wage that would enable them to access healthy food for themselves and their families.

The cuts proposed by both parties have been shocking for at least two reasons. First, these are the deepest cuts to food assistance – a basic and fundamental human need – that have been proposed in a generation. Second, these callous proposals were put forward during the greatest economic recession this country has faced in three generations, resulting in the inability of millions of people (1 in 6 people in the United States) – including children, elders and other vulnerable populations within our communities – to afford adequate food and meet their daily nutritional needs. The House bill, if it were enacted, would have removed around 2 million people from SNAP and would have entailed the loss of school meals for 200,000 children. Yet, the existing food assistance programs already fail to provide any relief to nearly half of all U.S. households in need of food assistance (roughly 1 in 11 people in the United States receive assistance, compared to the 1 in 6 who have measurable need for assistance).

Rather than make cuts and add punitive restrictions to food assistance programs, Congress, and the President, should act immediately to end the crisis for all 50 million people in the United States struggling with food insecurity and meet the government’s human rights obligations by formulating long-term participatory solutions to the manufactured food security crisis in this country. In effect, this is nothing more than a government of, by and for the people should be doing.

Our previous blog post on the Right to Food can be found here.

Further information on the Right to Food can be found here.

A recent report on food security, Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States, released by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University can be found here.