Farm Bill needs reform before Congress passes it


Carol Terryberry

Friday, May 18, 2018

The D.C. “swamp” is alive and well as special interests line up to protect themselves in the Farm Bill being debated this week in Congress. Four areas of this bill need significant reform: crop subsidies, sugar restrictions, insurance payments and work requirements for food stamp recipients.

The first amendment must address crop subsidies, which began as a social welfare program in the 1940s, when farm households earned half the average family income. Today, however, the average farm family earns $147,000 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is three times the median income for all households. Taxpayers pay $15 billion per year to subsidize just six crops: corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton and peanuts. This distorts the market demand by encouraging production of the subsidized crops, instead of allowing market forces to determine which crops to grow. In addition, subsidies drive up the cost of farmland, which discourages people from pursuing this noble profession. (Of course, the government then started a program to increase these numbers, after creating this artificial barrier.) Livestock and fruit farmers are able to succeed without these subsidies, and subsidized farmers should be able to function and compete in the marketplace without taxpayer handouts.

The second amendment addresses what is perhaps the best example of swampish cronyism: restrictions on sugar production, which reduce supply and drive up prices, hurting not only consumers, but all industries that use sugar. Driving up food prices disproportionately affects poor families, who spend a larger percentage of their household income on food. I’d ask U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., to support U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who has offered a sugar reform amendment to the bill.

Third, taxpayers foot two-thirds of the bill for crop insurance. Asking farmers to pay for, say, half of their own insurance would save $9 billion over the next 10 years, according to Heritage.org.

Finally, the current bill only requires work for 20 percent of food stamp recipients, and it is punitive toward married families with children who represent a limited number of people enrolled in the program. Work should be encouraged for the 10 million work-capable adults receiving food stamps, in a way that complements rather than competes with parental marriage. Cosponsoring or supporting the McClintock Amendment, which offsets the marriage penalty by allowing married parents with children to have a single work obligation shared between them, will encourage marriage, which, according to Rector, reduces poverty and dependence in 80 percent of cases.

Carol Terryberry

Elizabeth City

Editor’s note: The U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass the Farm Bill on Friday by a vote of 213-198.