As the 2008 farm bill reaches its expiration date, both houses of Congress are considering separate versions of the bill that would cut and eliminate programs for farmers and low income families. The original farm bill in 1973 authorized the food stamp program, which was reinstated by the 2008 Food and Nutrition Act. Yesterday, the House passed the latest version of the bill 217-210, which would cut nearly $39 billion over the next 10 years. Introduced by the House Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), on September 16th, H.R. 3102, The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 would cut funding for the food stamp program (SNAP) as well as prohibit "USDA and states from advertising or promoting SNAP," ends SNAP benefits for college students, allows drug testing on SNAP recipients, and sets up various additional requirements for SNAP eligibility.
As Joann Weiner explains in the Washington Post, this bill could be particularly detrimental to women, who now make up more than 300,000 principal operators of farms as of 2011. However, there is a large discrepancy between the amount of money that women-operated farms and men-operated farms receive from the government. For example, female farmers rely more on land retirement programs, which account for 56% of government funds received by farms operated by women (compared with 20% for men). These programs supplement an income stream to farmers who retire environmentally-sensitive land from farming. H.R. 3102 cuts funding for these land retirement programs by $2.7 billion over the next 10 years. Furthermore, the bill will cut $40 billion by repealing the Direct Payments Program, which were direct payments from the government to assist farmers in the differences between market prices. 44.5% of women-operated farms received such funding.
Though Congress has typically used the farm bill to help farmers suffering from temporarily low crop prices, almost 80% of spending in the bill supports these nutritional programs. Weiner argues that the most detrimental parts of the bill are the cuts made to the food stamp program. Households on food stamps average only $744 in monthly income, and the lowest income households receive the greatest amount of SNAP assistance. About 84% of SNAP recipients live in poverty and 62% of SNAP recipients are adult women. Children account for 45% of all SNAP participants, and single mothers are particularly reliant upon these benefits. Thus, cutting SNAP benefits would have a huge effect on women and mothers who rely on these benefits to supplement their impoverished incomes.
Considering the conservative make-up of the House, this bill is not particularly surprising- cutting funding from government programs has long been on the agenda of House Republicans. However, the passage of the bill was a relatively close vote at 217-210. Though the bill was passed relatively soon after it was introduced, the close passage may indicate the extremity of the bill itself. Moreover, though the farm bill and the food stamp programs are not typically seen as women's issues- not like abortion, rape, or workplace discrimination, women are especially affected by government benefits that support working women and single mothers. Therefore, cuts to these programs are becoming more and more of a "women's issue," raising the question as to whether these cuts should be seen as a conservative attempt to disenfranchise women in the same way of the Oklahoma restrictions on abortion. It will be interesting to see how the bill develops, and if it is even able to pass the democratically-controlled Senate.