Last week, the U.S. House passed its version of a new Farm Bill, the legislation that will guide agriculture and nutrition policy for the next five years.
The measure protects farmers, as it always does. The House bill extends subsidized crop insurance, helps pay for expanded broadband internet, even helps younger farmers get into the business.
But it also hurts the poor. The House bill would make it harder for some Americans to qualify for modest food stamp assistance. It would impose stricter work requirements for some beneficiaries. It could cut nutrition programs by $20 billion over the next decade.
These changes, Republicans contend, aren't flaws — they're features. "These common-sense improvements will reduce unemployment and help people move from dependency to independence and self-sufficiency," said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican.
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Hartzler certainly understands dependency. Between 1995 and 2016, the Environmental Working Group says, Hartzler Farms Inc. received nearly $1 million in federal commodity subsidies. The congresswoman is part owner of the company, which is worth between $1 million and $5 million, according to her financial disclosure statement.
Does Hartzler need taxpayer help? Her statement shows a range of asset values, but the middle range puts her net worth at about $9 million. She also reports income between $100,000 and $1 million a year from the Heartland Tractor Company in Harrisonville, Mo.
She earns a pension and a congressional salary, rent from several farms, and up to $100,000 from a commercial building in Iola, Kan.
She is, by any definition, a millionaire. Yet her company has received federal farm assistance. And she wants to cut food stamps to help the poor achieve "self-sufficiency."
Thankfully, the Senate has a different version of the Farm Bill, which it passed Thursday evening by 86-11. Importantly, it does not include massive cuts to food stamps and nutrition programs. It's the better approach.
In March, the average food stamp benefit was $122.80 per person for a month. Cutting the program further would jeopardize even those meager benefits.
And the use of food stamps is declining. In March, a little more than 40 million people were enrolled in the program, the lowest number since 2009. The reason is obvious: There are more jobs available. Given a choice, almost all Americans will work if they can. They don't need lectures from Hartzler or anyone else about independence.
We believe Congress should also consider capping federal assistance to high-income farmers like Hartzler. It is long past time for farmers who earn seven-figure incomes to let taxpayers off the hook.
Americans enjoy an abundance of quality food at a relatively low price at the supermarket. But they have access to good nutrition largely because taxpayers have subsidized agriculture, top to bottom, for decades.
Now is not the time to hand out big checks to farmers while cutting benefits for the hungry.