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Farm Bill Must Reform Nutrition Programs


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There have been several issues at the forefront in Congress this summer, and unfortunately, few have been resolved. We're continuing to prioritize and work on a number of issues, including the necessary passage of a farm bill, which is very important to our state and nation at large.

Congress passed the first farm bill as the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. This legislation sought to reform a variety of issues in the agriculture community, protect farmers and ensure access to healthy food for all. Ever since passage of that bill, programs have been reviewed and reformed and funds reauthorized every five years. Policies have continued to address a variety of agriculture programs beyond just America's farms, including crop support, conservation, food assistance and forestry.

Since passage of the first farm bill 80 years ago, the legislation has certainly evolved and not necessarily for the better. Currently, farm bill spending is unbalanced with nearly 80 percent of taxpayer dollars going to fund nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The remaining funds still go to help America's farmers, ranchers and consumers through other initiatives like commodity programs, agricultural research, trade and rural development.

Earlier this summer, after more than 40 hearings and a two-year audit of every program, fellow Oklahoman and Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas introduced H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013. While the House didn't pass this usually bipartisan legislation, this comprehensive reform would have saved the taxpayers $40 billion--more spending cuts than any other committee has offered yet. In addition, the legislation sought to eliminate abuses in nutrition program funding.

Funding for nutrition assistance likely accounts for more than it should and more than is necessary. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAP funding alone has grown at an unbelievable rate just since 2000. During that time, funds for nutrition assistance totaled $17 billion, and by the end of the Bush Administration in 2008, that number more than doubled to $37.6 billion. After just one term of the Obama Administration, however, funding has sharply increased to $78 billion; this means that SNAP funding has more than doubled in just four years and more than quadrupled since 2000.

Obviously, reform of nutrition programs is needed, and the best starting point is to find abuses and eliminate loopholes for SNAP recipients. While there is arguably merit behind the desire to provide assistance to needy families and individuals, that's where the assistance should end--with those who are actually struggling and genuinely need help. It would be un-American to turn our backs on those in need, but in this broken economy, it would also be wrong for us to abuse hardworking taxpayers who pay the bills.

Under current law and without reform, several abuses of taxpayer dollars will continue. Examples include the USDA using taxpayer money to advertise and encourage people to apply for SNAP, rather than letting those that need assistance to seek it out. Under existing law, lottery winners and traditional college students can qualify for SNAP. This should end. Currently, states even receive bonuses for administering the program, which encourages states to push the program upon those who don't actually need help.

While the House voted on another version of the FARRM bill earlier this month, it failed to provide the comprehensive reform recommended by Chairman Lucas. Until we get serious about reforming SNAP programs and eliminating abuses in the system, the economy will not improve and taxpayer dollars will continue to go into the hands of those who are simply looking for a handout.

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