Congress is expected to begin work soon on the $140 billion farm bill, but there are concerns that some conservatives are targeting nutrition programs for cuts.
Food programs such as SNAP, WIC and school lunches are a big part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's budget, and advocates fear they could become a target of Congressional "deficit hawks." James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit that works to eradicate poverty-related hunger, says talk on Capitol Hill of welfare reform puts a target on nutrition programs in the farm bill. "There seems to be a difference of opinion between House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell about whether they're going to do welfare reform," he notes. "Ryan wants to, and McConnell doesn't, which sets a tone and a path that would affect the farm bill."
Weill says the recently-passed tax bill is projected to result in a $1.5 trillion deficit in the federal budget over the next decade. He says some of the same Republicans who voted for the tax bill are now looking to cut "entitlement" programs to shrink the deficit. Weill says SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - and other food-assistance plans make up about 70 percent of the USDA budget. He says while preserving those programs is the primary goal, some improvements are also needed.
"Agriculture committees have reasonably broad, bipartisan support for leaving the SNAP program largely alone, and not fixing the real problems, like benefits aren't enough to get people through the month," he explains. He says it's critical for lawmakers to understand the value of SNAP and the people the program benefits. "SNAP reaches into every community in America in a fundamentally important way," he adds.
"Not only is SNAP profoundly important to the economy and the anti-hunger effort, but a lot of the stereotypes of who it is going to and how it affects communities are not quite right."