As of this writing, the United States Senate had just passed their version of the 2002 Farm Bill. The Bill is one of the most important pieces of federal legislation that Congress will consider this year because it will set U.S. farm policy for the next ten years. Last year, the House passed H.R. 2646, entitled, The Farm Aid Bill. The Senate is S. 1731, The Agriculture, Conservation, and Rural Enhancement Act.
Over the next few weeks both Houses of Congress will appoint Conferees to meet and negotiate whatever differences exist between the House and Senate bills. The Senate and the House have about the same amount of money in their bills, approximately $173 billion. However, there are significant differences in how to spend the money over the next ten years.
The House spreads annual funding levels evenly over the ten year period, while the Senate version spends most of the money in the first five years.
The House bill proposes to spend nearly 70 percent of its entire budget on existing commodity programs, increases funding for conservation programs only marginally, proposes no new programs to help beginning farmers/ranchers, and does nothing to restore food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants.
On the other hand, the Senate is proposing to spend around 60 percent of its budget on commodity programs while it targets assistance to small and moderate-sized farms and ranches, funds the Conservation Security Program, creates other programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers, develops rural communities, increases food stamp funding and helps legal immigrants. If the conferees can reconcile the different bills, then the common bill will go to a final vote in each chamber before being sent to the President.
Historically, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for government policy which supports a broadly owned and operated family farm system of agriculture and which provides necessary assistance for hungry families. We believe:
A diversified system supports stewardship of the land, diversity of plant and animal life, viable family and community life, and appreciation for God's gift of creation, values which are undermined by a corporately controlled and highly concentrated system;
Food is unlike other commercial commodities because it is necessary for life itself. Therefore, the quality and quantity of foodand a sustainable food systemare critically important. The bishops believe that an owner-operated family farm system best meets these goals;
The federal government has a significant role to play in this area by providing just policy and financial support to help meet the needs of both farmers and hungry families.
What You Can Do
Now is the time to contact your Senators and Representatives. Tell them that in order to protect the poor and the vulnerable, support rural communities and promote the common good, the farm bill must:
Support House efforts to increase access for farmers to all USDA programs.
Extend and expand the successful community food programs in the House bill.
Include the Senate Nutrition Title that strengthens our nation's food and nutrition programs and makes them more accessible to vulnerable populations at risk of hunger and food insecurity.
Support Senate provisions to restore food stamp eligibility to the highest number of legal immigrants possible.
Support Senate efforts that target assistance to small and moderate-sized farms with the goal of keeping rural America environmentally healthy.
Support Senate measures to assist beginning farmers and ranchers and efforts to encourage widespread ownership of agricultural lands.
For Further Information
Andy Rivas 202.541.3190; (fax) 202.541.3339; firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Gronski, NCRLC, 515-270-2634; (fax) 515-270-9447); email@example.com.