Rep. Baca Supports Historic, Groundbreaking Farm Bill
Bill Reforms Food Stamps and Invests in Diversity
Washington, DC - Today, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 2419, the 2007 Farm Bill, by a vote of 231 - 191. Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto), who chairs the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, was instrumental in bringing about sweeping changes to fundamentally improve federal nutrition programs.
In May 2007, Representative Baca introduced H.R. 2401, the NOURISH Act, which is the basis for the nutrition reforms included in the 2007 Farm Bill.
"Today is a historic day for Americans! Currently, over 38 million people in our country do not have enough to eat. The Farm Bill passed by the House today makes the single largest expansions of federal feeding programs in the last thirty years," said Rep. Baca. "Children, working families, seniors, veterans and disabled adults will see real life benefits once this bill is enacted into law."
"I am extremely proud of having overseen the Nutrition title of this legislation. Currently the average food stamp recipient lives on only $21 a week - this is unacceptable. The Farm Bill Provides the type of real changes our working families have desperately needed," commented Rep. Baca.
"Gas, food and housing prices go up every day, but food stamps have failed to keep up with these increases," explained Rep. Baca. "We change that in this bill by making food stamps keep up with the cost of living. And by exempting Special Military Combat pay from food stamp asset limits, Congress is also looking after our families who have a loved one serving overseas."
The fundamental nutrition changes in the 2007 Farm Bill include:
* Indexing food stamp benefits to inflation to keep up with the true cost of living.
* Lifting the $175 dependent child-care cap so working families can deduct all their child-care expenses.
* Exempting retirement and educational savings from asset limits for the first time.
* Exempting special combat pay for our military families from the asset test for the first time.
* Raising the standard deduction for the first time in over twenty years.
* Raising the ten dollar minimum benefit for the first time in thirty years.
* Increasing access to the food stamp program by allowing telephonic signature for the disabled and senior citizens.
* Removing the stigma associated with food stamps by eliminating embarrassing coupons and renaming the program the Secure Supplemental Nutrition Access Program, or SSNAP.
* Expanding the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program to all 50 states.
Rep. Baca also fought to ensure that strong labor protections were included in the final bill. These protections included a prohibition on the outsourcing of food stamp administration, and the addition of the Davis-Bacon provision - which ensures all workers receive prevailing wages.
"This overhaul not only improves nutrition benefits for over 13 million families, but also protects American jobs by ensuring the administration of food stamps will not be outsourced to private companies," added Rep. Baca. "The addition of the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage will also protect American working families by ensuring our rural workers receive a fair pay."
In addition to nutrition reforms the NOURISH Act also included broad improvements for minorities in agriculture. Many of these provisions were adopted by the Agriculture Committee into the 2007 Farm Bill.
"I am proud to have played a part in honoring the role of small, beginning, and socially-disadvantaged farmers in American agriculture," added Rep. Baca. "This Farm Bill provides traditionally underserved communities with increased access to USDA programs and invests in minority serving agricultural institutions to prepare the next generation of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian-Pacific Islanders to succeed in agriculture."
Some of the key investments in diversity in the 2007 Farm Bill include:
o Investing an unprecedented $150 million in mandatory funding for outreach to small, beginning, and socially-disadvantaged farmers.
o Requiring an annual report to Congress to ensure that our outreach programs are working for minority farmers.
o Creating an advisory board to process and hear civil rights violations by the USDA.
o Setting aside 10% of conservation funding to go to our small, beginning, and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
o Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as tribal colleges, through increased funding in research opportunities.
o Establishing for the first time the Hispanic Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities program at USDA, which creates an endowment fund and provides opportunities for capacity building, program extensions and research.
Allowing the use and implementation of native, culturally appropriate foods in nutrition programs on Native American reservations for the first time.
"This is a Farm Bill for ALL Americans - farmers, ranchers, working families, minorities, urban communities, rural America and all 50 states," concluded Rep. Baca. "These are the vital changes that Americans have been waiting for and the type of reforms that will help the farmers, ranchers, and working families of the Inland Empire."
The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2007. The Senate is expected to take up its consideration of the Farm Bill in early September.