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Who Really Needs a Haircut?

Who Really Needs a Haircut?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The House Appropriations Committee is set to vote today on a spending bill that makes deep cuts to a broad range of food assistance programs that provide vital nutritional support for the poor, including pregnant women and children.

What it doesn’t do, despite the chorus of frenzied calls to cut federal spending, is make even the smallest trims in the lavish federal subsidies to industrial grain producers and absentee land owners or to the government’s heavily subsidized crop and revenue insurance programs.

Last week  (May 25), the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture took the first step when it approved the spending bill, which also takes aim at funding for energy, conservation, research and rural development programs.

With Americans still struggling to emerge from the recession that forced millions to apply for food assistance programs, the committee slashed $2 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and $832 million – or 11 percent – from a food program for poor pregnant women and young children. That comes on top of a similar cut just a few weeks ago.

And at a time when food insecurity is a growing global crisis, the House panel voted to cut international hunger programs by $457 million, or 23 percent.

All told, the bill cuts more than $2.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget, in keeping with the House majority’s goal of whittling away spending at every opportunity – except when it comes to payments to agribusiness, which are vigorously defended by the Ag Lobby.

Those inequitable subsidies would continue to flow, mostly to large commodity crop growers, even though farm income is at an all-time high and projected to grow by 20 percent in 2011. Since 1995, just 4 percent of American farms – the largest grain and fiber growers – have received 74 percent of all farm payments. This is the reality that gives the lie to claims that these payments represent a “safety net” for small and family farms. A true safety net would be one that supports all farmers, not just a privileged minority.

The taxpayer-financed crop insurance subsidies, meanwhile, have more than doubled in the last five years.

Surely, at a time when reducing the federal deficit has become a national priority, it would make sense to take a few dollars from the direct payments to wealthy landlords and mega-farms, who are doing very well in this surging agricultural economy, and perhaps a few pennies from crop insurance subsidies that have gone way up as crop prices set new records.

Eliminating the giveaways to just the top 9 percent of recipients, those who get the biggest direct payments, would pay for the entire $2.5 billion in savings in the subcommittee’s bill, negating any need for the other cuts while having no effect on nine of every 10 farmers.

Instead, the committee appears ready to choose, once again, to take from the have-nots in order to keep the trough overflowing for a powerful coterie of rich agribusinesses, egged on by a consortium of farm machinery manufactures, agri-chemical corporations, bankers and lobbyists out to protect their vested interest in the ag monoculture.

Several committee members are likely to offer to address some of this imbalance, but they face an uphill fight. Every taxpayer should be rooting for these courageous efforts.


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