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October 24, 2016
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Impact of new farm bill on New York State

WASHINGTON, DC — Congress has passed a new five-year farm bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act, and while Rep. Chris Gibson (R-19) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) are touting the benefits of a new law for New York State farmers, New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) voted against it because of cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) food stamps program, now called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, for short.

In a statement provided on Tuesday after the Senate’s vote. Sen. Gillibrand said, “Only in Washington could a final bill that doubles the already egregious cuts to hungry families, while somehow not creating any additional savings than originally proposed, be called progress. This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts. I could not vote for it on the Senate floor.”

U.S. Sen. Charles E. “Chuck” Schumer, however, praised the bill in a statement last week, crediting it with having provisions that would provide “major victories” for the state’s farmers.

“Ensuring the Farm Bill’s passage is of the utmost importance to New York, because it maintains or grows scores of programs for Upstate New York dairy, fruit and vegetable farmers, maple syrup producers and even New York jewels like Hickey Freeman,” Schumer said. “While the bill does not contain everything that we fought for, it is ultimately a win for the farmers that are the heart of Upstate New York: it will not only pay large dividends down the road, but also delivers immediate certainty for our farmers at a time that they need it.”

Taking credit for authoring some of the Farm Bill’s provisions, Gibson indicated, “My language overhauls the safety net program for dairy farmers, encourages the growth and sustainability of local and regional agriculture and organic farming, protects conservation programs and helps beginning farmers access the capital they need to enter the field. For our rural communities, we protected and improved the rural broadband loan program once again and we also make reforms to better address Lyme disease, a public health scourge in our area...

“For Kingston, which is an integral part of the agricultural economy because of the rural nature of Ulster County, its farmers markets, restaurants, and other attributes, the bill expands eligibility for rural development programs for the city.”

The bill is also noteworthy for its lack of farm subsidy reform, including especially the elimination by conference committee negotiators of commodity payment limitation reform (the subject of The River Reporter’s editorial on January 24) originally approved by both houses of Congress. The House/Senate negotiators stripped the bills of nearly all subsidy reforms.

Impact on food stamp recipients

Reached in her office in Albany, Hunger Solutions New York Executive Director Linda Bopp outlined the consequences of the food stamp cuts in the Empire State. “The consequence is that approximately 300,000 households in New York State (NYS) will see their SNAP benefits go down approximately $90 a month.” She said that translates into a loss of about 34 meals a month.

New York is among 15 states (mostly states where residents have high heating costs) that will be hit harder because of how heating assistance and food stamps programs are linked. Due to a change in the law, households that previously qualified automatically for higher SNAP benefits when they received any amount of support (no matter how little) under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program(LIHEAP) must now receive at least $20 in LIHEAP assistance to be eligible for higher SNAP benefits.

When asked who will pick up the slack in New York State, Bopp said, “That’s the exact thing we’re concerned about. There’s no one to pick up the slack. The rationale is that the emergency food system will pick up the slack, but this doesn’t recognize that food organizations are already running at a deficit, unable to meet current demand. Those organizations already saw an astronomical increase last November. There’s no one to fill it. This is a dire situation.”

Hunger Solutions New York is now formulating what to tell local soup kitchens and food pantries. “Donations already are down, and we can’t tell them to create food out of nothing.”

In Bopp’s opinion, “This is not a charity issue; it’s a government responsibility.”

[This week’s editorial on this subject can be found on page 6.]