Another bad Farm Bill

House version cuts food stamps to pay for enhanced crop insurance

As a member of a wealthy rice-growing family that has received nearly $5 million in federal crop payments during the past 15 years, state Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) is the poster boy for agriculture subsidies in the North State, coming under fire for the hypocrisy of being a budget-cutting, anti-tax Republican who accepts “corporate welfare.”

If Congress passes the current five-year update of the Farm Bill, however, that may change. As passed by the U.S. Senate (it’s now under consideration in the House), the bill does away with the $5 billion in annual direct crop subsidies, the kind LaMalfa received, replacing them with an enhanced system of subsidized crop insurance that will cost at least $12 billion annually. It’s an overly generous program that subsidizes crop loss without imposing caps on the payments, encourages planting on marginal lands, and favors large, well-heeled farms over their smaller competitors.

It also includes a provision that blocks public release of the amounts of the insurance payouts farmers receive. If the LaMalfa family collects $100,000 in crop insurance, $62,000 of it paid by taxpayers, only its members will know about it.

In order to fund the enhanced crop-subsidies program, the House version cuts food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (CalFresh in California). An estimated 1.8 million people—out of the 46 million currently receiving food stamps—would lose their benefits, and about 280,000 school-age children would be knocked off the free-school-lunch program.

Agriculture is one of the few economic sectors that have prospered during the recession. It makes no moral or practical sense to finance additional aid to millionaire farmers like Doug LaMalfa on the backs of the working poor.