In this season of the fall harvest, Congress is proving once again that it is a very poor gardener — it keeps watering the weeds and pulling the flowers. A conference committee is currently meeting to hash out a new, five-year farm bill, and what a hash they're making of it!
For some 40 years, one of the best flowers in the farm-bill garden has been the food stamp program, a symbiotic benefit for poor people and farmers alike. Since the crash of 2008, that flower has been especially worthy, keeping millions of knocked-down families from plunging into full-tilt poverty.
Yet, with joblessness unabated and poverty increasing, $5 billion was cut from food stamp benefits on Nov. 1, and the House now wants to yank $4 billion a year more from it — and subject recipients to drug testing and other gratuitous intrusions.
Meanwhile, the same gardeners are watering the farm program's noxious weeds. Specifically, they're growing a $14 billion-a-year crop insurance subsidy that amounts to a guaranteed farm income for the largest, most-profitable agribusiness operations.
Indeed, while the House wants to force food stamp recipients to prove that their incomes are low enough to qualify for benefits, the crop insurance handout requires no-means testing and has no limits on how much recipients can get.
This means that billionaires who are only incidental "farmers" will be among the biggest beneficiaries.
And those billionaires are to be given one more little bennie: The farm bill would let them get their subsidies in secret, preventing taxpayers from knowing who gets how much.
You shouldn't be punished for being poor, and you shouldn't be subsidized if you're a billionaire. To help plant some seeds of common sense in American farm policy, contact the Environmental Working Group: ewg.org.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.
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