Saturday, March 12, 2005

GIVEN A CHOICE between cutting subsidies to farms or taking the cuts from nutrition programs, food stamps, school lunches, and aid to pregnant women and their children (the WIC program), which do you think Republicans in Congress are pushing for?

The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Saxby Chambliss, Republican from Georgia, says that the food stamp program is "a good place to look for savings," even though by his own admission the program has a fraud rate of only 6%. Chambliss says he wants the cuts to be "as painless to every farmer in America as we can make it" -- clearly implying that he's standing up for family farms and smaller or independent farmers when the truth is that farm subsidies are a form of corporate welfare that overwhelmingly benefit huge agribusinesses: 78% of farm subsidies go to 8% of farm producers. But Chambliss is from the South, the home of huge corporate cotton and rice farming operations whose lobbyists keep Republican candidates well supplied with gravy.

The South also has some of the highest rates of poverty and hunger in the United States; Mississippi has the second highest percentage of food insecure households in the country (New Mexico has the highest).* But impoverished, hungry, and food insecure families are not the demographic group that vote Republican or that keep Republican coffers green.

These cuts, if approved, are going to do enormous harm to the segment of the U.S. population that is already hurting the most.

"Particularly in the House, the members are talking about taking all or most of it from nutrition," said Jim Weill, president of the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center. "There isn't a way to do it that doesn't hurt, because the program's very lean and doesn't give people enough anyhow. The benefits are less than people need. The program's not reaching even three-fifths of the people who are eligible. And the abuse rate is very low and is going down further."

All of the above having been said, what I want to know is why Congress is pitting two constituencies of the domestic economy against each other, and cutting funding for one at the expense of the other, when farm subsidies and food aid programs together account for less (much less) than $100 billion of the U.S. budget ($52 billion for low-income food programs and $24 billion for farm aid); and Pres. Bush's proposed defense budget for FY2006 is almost $420 billion -- just under 5% more than this year's defense budget. And this figure does not include $50 billion that the Senate Budget Committee wants to hold on the side for Iraq-related expenses alone.

In other words, the extra funding for war and occupation in Iraq, which is in addition to the $419.3 billion for the FY2006 defense budget, is almost as much as the entire budget for food aid and nutrition programs to help low-income Americans.

*1996 - 1998 figures

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