Mr. William Smith
5309 N US Highway 75 Trlr 44
Sioux City, IA 51108-1574
Iowans are keenly aware of the critical need for a new farm bill - one that both continues and reforms our nation's food, agriculture, conservation, energy, and rural policies. A good farm bill creates jobs and boosts the economy. That is especially important in Iowa, where agriculture and affiliated industries create about one in every five jobs and generate nearly a fourth of our state's economic output.
That is why today's action by the U.S. House of Representatives in passing legislation covering only the nutrition portion of the farm bill - and greatly reducing food assistance to low-income Americans - is so troubling. Without a doubt, the House's vote today will only make it harder to enact the comprehensive, long-term food and agriculture bill so vitally important to Iowa and our entire nation.
For more than 40 years, Congress has combined help for farm families and rural communities with food assistance for low-income families in one comprehensive farm bill. This formula gave producers some degree of protection from market swings and poor prices while assisting low-income families in putting food on the table. It also allowed us to enact innovative policies to promote renewable energy and conservation of our natural resources, which have been a remarkable economic boost for Iowa farmers and the communities in which they reside.
In June, the U.S. Senate continued that tradition, passing the Agricultural Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 by a strong bipartisan vote of 66-27. As a senior member of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which I proudly chaired during passage of the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, I was very involved in shaping the new Senate farm bill.
I was encouraged that the Senate legislation built on the progress and reforms of earlier bills by continuing sound, balanced, and bipartisan policies in agriculture, food, conservation, energy and rural development even while reducing federal spending. The bill included a strong conservation title that will help farmers and landowners in Iowa and across our nation conserve our soil, water, and wildlife. It also continued to fund programs helping farmers and rural businesses carry out rural renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. To reform farm programs, the Senate bill eliminated the direct commodity payments and replaced them with a new and more effective income-protection system derived from one that I worked to include in the 2008 farm bill.
Consistent with past farm bills, the Senate measure also continued support for food banks and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which benefits the most vulnerable among us - children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and those working at minimum wage. Some 400,000 Iowans rely on this modest SNAP assistance to feed their families.
Rather than following the example of the Senate and passing a comprehensive, bipartisan farm bill, the House has moved in the opposite direction. After failing in June to pass the proposed new farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee, in July, the House leadership split off the nutrition title of the farm bill and gained passage of all other farm bill titles in a separate bill.
Today, the House passed its stand-alone bill containing the nutrition title and cutting nearly $40 billion from food assistance in the next 10 years - about twice as much as the original House bill had proposed. The severity of the House nutrition spending cut is shown in analysis by the Congressional Budget Office: it would in 2014 alone deny SNAP food assistance to 3.8 million low-income Americans struggling in a tough economy. And it would reduce SNAP assistance by an average of $90 each month to 850,000 households.
At a time when a reasonable solution is badly needed in order to finalize a long-term farm bill, the House action moves in the opposite direction, which will only make it more difficult for the Senate and the House to come together and to reach an agreement that can be sent to the President for his signature. By going down this unprecedented path -- splitting the historic coalition that has traditionally supported farm bills -- the House is not only seeking drastically to weaken modest yet critical assistance for low-income families. The House's action today has also greatly jeopardized our ability to enact a farm bill continuing income protection for agricultural producers along with conservation, energy, and rural initiatives of proven success.
Even following today's extreme action, the House still could adopt a more reasonable approach and cooperate in enacting a new farm bill. To do so, it is now essential for the House to agree to a conference so that the Senate and House can negotiate and agree upon a comprehensive, balanced, sensible, and bipartisan new food and agriculture bill. A new farm bill is far too important to farmers, rural communities, consumers, and all Americans to be delayed any longer. I intend to do everything in my power to advance this process and see that Congress passes and the president signs this critically important legislation.
For more information on the 2013 farm bill, please visit http://www.harkin.senate.gov/
United States Senator