The food safety net

Speaking of Thanksgiving, we note that, according to the California Association of Food Banks, the cost of a typical Turkey Day dinner for a family of four has increased by more than 300 percent since the Food Stamp Program began in 1977, from $14.51 to $49.20.

Over the same 30 years, the minimum monthly food stamp benefit has remained frozen at $10. The program hasn’t seen a cost-of-living adjustment since 1996 and is now set at a shamefully low $1 per meal. Most food stamp recipients will have used up their monthly allotment by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.

The 2007 farm bill now lurching through Congress would increase that allowance and, most important, peg future increases to the inflation rate. It also would increase the minimum benefit to $18 and increase the assets people could hold and still be eligible from $2,000 to $3,000.

Overall, the farm bill is a disaster. It gives our tax dollars to millionaire farmers and farmland investors, contributes to our obesity by subsidizing fattening crops (including corn, source of the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup), leads to the consolidation of megafarms, helps degrade our rivers, fosters the loss of topsoil, depletes aquifers—the list goes on. A bill that’s supposed to help the family farm does just the opposite.

Don’t blame the Bush administration. It favors a better bill, one that would limit subsidies to truly small farmers and distribute them more widely. It’s congressional Democrats, seeking to protect farm-state House seats in the Midwest and campaign donations from the likes of giant food processor Archer Daniels Midland, who are most responsible for this horrible bill.

At this point, the bill’s future is up in the air. The Senate still hasn’t passed a final version, and reaching compromise with the House version may be difficult. After that, the president could veto the whole thing, and Congress will have no choice but to continue extending indefinitely the current, five-year-old farm bill, with its terrible food stamp provisions.

It’s a shame that a worthy and much-needed improvement of the Food Stamp Program is tied to such a bad bill.