With food prices rising, Congress offers the wrong answer

WITH FOOD PRICES RISING, CONGRESS OFFERS THE WRONG ANSWER…. The price of food has gone up considerably, and a growing number of Americans — nearly one in five — have said they’re struggling to feed their families.

Following up on an item from last week, Tim Fernholz reports that several House members, nearly all Republicans, are responding with the wrong answer.

The House Agriculture Committee endorsed a letter this week to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan arguing that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans purchase food, would make a better target for cuts than automatic subsidies to farms.

The move comes as food prices are rising — the Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year — making it harder for the beneficiaries of SNAP to stretch their existing benefits, even as farmers profit from the tightening market. Critics across the political spectrum have called agricultural subsidies wasteful and unnecessary, and they question the logic of maintaining them as lawmakers hunt for budget cuts.

Those critics from across the political spectrum are right.

The problem here is that the Agriculture Committee is dominated not only by a Republican majority, but farm-state lawmakers where constituents rely heavily on agriculture subsidies from the government. We’re talking about folks who are desperate to cut spending, but are equally desperate to protect wasteful and unnecessary agricultural subsidies.

As a result, since slashing something is apparently mandatory, they’re cutting SNAP, the program that helps struggling families eat, and which has become an even more important refuge for low-income Americans during a struggling economy with rising food prices.

What’s more, as Pat Garofalo explained, making agriculture subsidies off limits is absurd: “At the moment, 61 percent of the subsidies that the U.S. provides for agriculture go to just ten percent of recipients. Though some restrictions on rich farmers receiving subsidies were placed into the 2008 farm bill, they were mostly ineffective. And entrenched lawmakers on the agriculture committee help to keep it that way.”