Food Bank: New Farm bill could negatively impact food insecure families

OKLAHOMA CITY — As an agriculture bill passes the U.S. House by a razor thin margin, food organizations say they are concerned over the effects it could have on those who are food insecurity.

On Thursday, a measure dubbed as the “Farm Bill” passed the U.S. House by a 213 to 211 vote. The bill, more than 600 pages long, is being praised for adding what some describe as “safety nets” for farmers.

“Many of the farm commodities are at half the price they were at four or five years ago, so we’re in a tough times for many traditional commodity crops in Oklahoma so those risk management tools, that insurance that a farmer buys, the farm bill essentially helps pay part of that premium,” explained Rodd Moesel, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.

However, that same bill also includes language which would add work requirements for recipients of the SNAP program regarding the qualifications for food stamps. Under this proposal, adults would have to work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in state-run training programs. The measure would expand on the current work requirement in place.

Skyler Parker with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma said this could negatively impact many clients who already struggle with paying for child care.

“Many times, spouses, partners, husbands and wives have to work as much as they can without increasing child care costs and one will work and switch off and the other will come in and take care of the kids because of the high costs of child care,” Parker told News 4.

Currently, 1 in 6 adults in Oklahoma are considered “food insecure” along with 1 in 4 children. Parker said for every one meal the Food Bank provides, SNAP provides 12. If this bill were to be signed into law, it could mean a heavier workload for the food banks and other food organizations.

“If you were to cut those SNAP meals, that would mean that we would have to increase our meals,” he said. “We distributed over 53 million pounds last year to hungry Oklahomans and so if SNAP meals go down, that means more people coming to agencies, more people coming to pantries.”

Moesel said the bill added food stamps as part of the bill in the 1970's.

"As our country started moving from a rural economy to an urban economy and more of the voters were in urban areas, it was getting harder and harder in some people’s minds to pass a traditional farm bill, so they moved the food stamp program, which is viewed as an urban program, to support folks in urban areas. They merged the food stamp program and the farm bill together," he said. "The idea is that you get urban legislators to support the food and the farm bill because of the involvement of the snap and food stamp program and you get traditional support from rural states for the farm bill."

He said overall, the Farm Bill is not perfect but it does serve as a benefit to consumers.

“This brings stability,” he said. “Instead of huge ups and downs in the prices of farm commodities based on what the weather is like that year or what crop availability is like, this stabilizes the prices at an even price structure as the years go by.”

The U.S. Senate is currently considering their version of this bill. If it were to pass, both chambers must go to a conference committee to produce a revised version which would then have to get approval from both chambers before being signed into law.