When the 2002 Farm Bill was passed, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) were critical of the projected $180 billion budget outlay for ten years, an 80 percent increase from the previous farm bill. The Conference was specifically concerned about Congress failure to target federal income support to those who needed it most, such as small and medium-sized farms. Despite the enormous price tag, several provisions in the Farm Bill, supported by the USCCB and the NCRLC, addressed inadequate hunger policies and the needs of rural communities. These provisions included: restoration of food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants; increased funding for conservation programs; innovative programs to assist new and beginning farmers and ranchers, and various rural development programs.
According to the latest reports, the 2006 budget request by the Administration, which was announced on February 7, 2005, will attempt to reverse the 2002 Farm Bill by limiting the amount of federal assistance to farmers to $250,000 per year, down from the current $360,000 per year. The Administration is also reportedly seeking to close loopholes that allow some large corporate farms to collect millions of dollars in federal assistance and is proposing across the board cuts to programs that could hurt small and moderate-sized farms. The new White House proposal will likely trigger a very divisive fight in Congress between regional farm groups. The payment limitation proposal is very similar to a provision that was proposed in the 2002 Farm Bill by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). That proposal was passed by both the House and the Senate Agriculture Committees with strong bi-partisan support but was removed in Conference negotiations by southern lawmakers.
The USCCB continues to advocate on behalf of farm policies that enable our nation to maintain an agricultural system of diverse, family-owned and operated farms. Policies and programs are needed that encourage rural development, promoting and maintaining the culture and values of rural communities. These should include policies that encourage a wide range of economic development strategies, especially by fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of rural people and investing in their education and training. They also should include policies that promote and support farming, support the efforts of farmers to establish co-ops and other cooperative ventures, and encourage widespread diversity in farm ownership. Limited government resources for subsidies and other forms of support should be targeted to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority-owned farms, to help them through difficult times caused by changes in global agricultural markets or weather patterns that destroy crops. Agricultural subsidies often go to a few large producers, while smaller family farms struggle to survive. Rather than simply rewarding production, which can lead to surpluses and falling prices, government resources should reward environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices. Because of rising land prices, the cost of sophisticated equipment, and the difficulty of making a living, government resources are also needed to help new farmers and ranchers enter the field of agriculture. (From 2002 Pastoral Statement, For I was Hungry And You Gave Me Food)
While the Conference is encouraged by the Administrations effort to reduce the amount of subsidy payments to large corporate farms, we are also disappointed by the apparent effort to cut farm programs that have proven effective in assisting small and moderate-sized farms. USCCB and NCRLC staff will be assessing the Presidents budget proposal in the light of Conference principles and priorities as articulated in When I Was Hungry.
What You Can Do
Contact your Senators and Representative and urge them to give priority to:
- Full funding of programs that provide nutrition to pregnant women and children (WIC), and to eligible poor and low income families (Food Stamps).
- Resources for rural communities struggling to maintain their values and quality of life, and farmers and ranchers practicing responsible stewardship of their land and common waterways (Conservation Security Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and the Value-Added Producer Grants Program).
For Further Information
Andy Rivas 202-541-3190; (fax) 202-541-3339; email@example.com Robert Gronski, NCRLC, 515-270-2634; firstname.lastname@example.org.