Sec. of Agriculture Vilsack Says Farm Bill Crisis Looms

Aug 1, 2013

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Credit / Minnesota Public Radio

Congress will recess for the rest of the month Friday and the fate of the Farm Bill still has not been settled. Both chambers passed separate versions, but the House broke with a 40 year tradition and removed SNAP funding, commonly referred to as food stamps, from their version of the legislation.

Not a single Democrat supported that version. Republican Tom Cotton was the only member of the Arkansas delegation who voted against previous incarnations of the bill containing SNAP funding.

In an interview with KUAR, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says failing to reconcile the two versions could be disastrous and force the government to revert to standards established in the 1940’s.

“All of our trade promotion programs, all of the research dollars to go to Arkansas’s University System from USDA, all of the rural development programs, all of the capacity to expand job creation in rural Arkansas are dependent on getting a five year bill through. In addition to, obviously, the support system and structure that will make it easier for farmers and ranchers in Arkansas to withstand natural disasters,” said Vilsack.

He also said splitting SNAP from the farm bill was a mistake, and that the two are interconnected for a reason.

“They basically enable those families to buy more at their grocery store and because they can buy more at their grocery store that helps to support all of the jobs in the supply chain. From the moment something is sold at the grocery store all the way back to it being shelved, being packaged, it being processed, it being trucked, and it being produced. That’s one of the reasons why, if you look at what happens to a dollar spend in a grocery store, 15 to 17 cents of every dollar that’s spent ultimately finds its way back in a farmer’s pocket,” said Vilsack.

Republican Senator John Boozeman says moving forward, Congress will try to reconcile the two pieces of legislation in conference, and says it needs to include food assistance.

“I think everybody working really hard can come to agreement and get something that is good for farmers, good for consumers, good for those that are dependent on food stamps, and then also something that’s very good for the American taxpayer,” said Boozeman.

The 2008 farm bill expires on October 1st, at which time cuts will go in effect, including a predicted rise in common food staples like milk.