What is the U.S. Farm Bill and how is it connected to hunger?

A recent nationwide survey by The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, shows a vast majority, 79%, of Americans are unfamiliar with the U.S. Farm Bill.

From the title, you can probably figure out that the Farm Bill is the primary federal agricultural policy legislation.  And when you think of farms, you likely think about food.  But, would you necessarily think farm policy has a major effect on hungry American’s access to nutritious food?  In fact, in does. The Farm Bill also contains the guidelines and funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which provides food to low-income individuals and families.  SNAP, which used to be called Food Stamps, is one of the most direct ways to fight food insecurity and is the largest domestic program that helps people get enough to eat.


So how does the program actually work? People who earn little or no income are eligible to apply for SNAP.  How much SNAP funding a household receives depends on income of number of dependents (children, seniors over 50 and people with disabilities) live in the home.  Able-bodied individuals without dependents who receive SNAP benefits must work, volunteer, or take classes for at least 20 hours a week.  Beneficiaries receive a card and a personal PIN number that may only be used by the recipient.  People with dependents can stay on SNAP indefinitely while those without dependents can only receive 3 months of benefits within 36 months.  A person must report income changes so benefits can be adjusted.  A person can only buy food items with SNAP dollars-no hygiene items or paper products.  You may find it interesting that 70% of all households where someone works and has at least one child receive SNAP benefits.

The measure comes up for a re-funding vote every five years and, this year, must be approved by September 31.  The biggest divide between the versions passed by House and Senate focuses on work requirements for able-bodied adults with no dependents.  The House calls for mandatory increases.  The Senate version does not but makes changes to streamline the SNAP program. Congress is currently trying to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.

Hunger relief agencies are opposed to the work requirements because they could negatively effect people who are already do not know where their next meal is coming from and living in areas with few available jobs available. 

Individuals, charities, communities, businesses and governments all have a role to play in keeping food on the table.  Food banks simply are unable to handle the need alone.

Please help make food available through SNAP for all who qualify by contacting your lawmakers in Washington.  Representative David Rouser of North Carolina is on the conference committee.  You can contact him by calling (202) 225-2731 or send him an email at his website at www.rouzer.house.gov and ask him to leave SNAP in-tact. Also, you can get in touch with any of North Carolina’s congressional delegation by calling (202) 225-3121 for representatives or (202) 224-3121 for Senators Burr and Tillis.