Editor's note: This story is the third of three about the federal farm bill recently approved by Congress. In coming months we'll follow up with new stories when more specific details about the implementation of the bill become available.
Although it is most often referred to as the "Farm Bill," according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, over two-thirds of the cost of the "Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008" or $209 billion will actually go towards nutrition and food programs.
"I don't know if people know how much of the farm bill is for food stamp subsidies," said Jared Singer, county executive director of the Saline County Farm Service Agency, adding it has also been that way in previous bills.
"In the past, the majority of the dollars have gone to those programs, as opposed to the commodity-based programs we work for here in this office," said Singer.
According to the budget, 11 percent or $35 billion will go for agriculture commodity programs and 8 percent or $25 billion will go to conservation programs. (For more about those programs see previous stories, www.marshallnews.com/story/1435752.html and www.marshallnews.com/story/1436123.html).
The rest of the $307 billion expected cost will go to rural development, trade, forestry and energy.
The biggest ticket item of the bill, the food stamp program, has been renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The legislation increases spending for SNAP by $5.4 billion over the next ten years, in order to improve the purchasing power of low-income families.
During voting for the bill, Senator Thomas Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "This bill does more to strengthen federal food assistance than any bill we have passed since George Herbert Walker Bush was the President."
The bill increases assistance to families with high child-care expenses by allowing a full deduction of those expenses in calculating family income and benefit levels.
It also includes a provision that which would encourage low-income families to save for the future, by making sure that the value of any retirement and education savings accounts does not make them ineligible to participate in SNAP.
In other spending for nutrition over the next 10 years:
$1 billion for a fresh fruit and vegetable program that provides free fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income children in schools;
$1.256 billion to increase commodity purchases for food banks;
$50 million to help seniors purchase agricultural products at farmer's markets, roadside stands and other community-supported agriculture programs;
$50 million for USDA to provide grants for community food projects, such as school gardens.
The bill also promotes rural development by supporting the marketing of locally produced agricultural products; reduces the backlog of unfunded pending rural development water and wastewater loan and grant applications; expands broadband service; creates a rural microenterprise assistance initiative; expands the farm labor housing program and reforms the definition of "rural" by clarifying that cities of more than 50,000 are not eligible for USDA rural programs.
The bill also covers organic agriculture and agriculture research and provides money for growers of specialty crops, fruits and vegetables.
It provides money for cellulosic ethanol research and encourages production of advanced biofuels. It also continues the biodiesel fuel education initiative.
There are also some "special" projects included, such as a provision that will benefit endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker in Georgia, a tax break for racehorse owners and $170 million for the struggling Pacific salmon industry.
President George W. Bush and others said the bill did not do enough to limit subsidies at a time of record grain prices. In addition Bush called the bill "bloated" and "fiscally irresponsible."
In refuting critics, specifically a Washington Post article calling a new revenue-based subsidy portion (ACRE) of the bill a "boondoggle" for farmers, Harkin spoke about the skyrocketing input costs, "That is why we have the ACRE program -- to reflect the new realities, the new realities of what farmers have to pay for their fertilizer, their fuel, their equipment, their land. All of these expenses have gone up tremendously. We need a program that helps farmers deal with those higher costs and potential volatility in market prices for commodities, and that is why we put this new program in. It is a reform. It is one of the features of this bill that I believe will help family farms survive in America."
Despite some opposition, many Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill on May 15, by a vote of 306-110. The Senate quickly followed suit, voting 82 to 13. As promised, Bush vetoed the bill on May 21. For the second time in only 10 vetoes, both chambers overrode his veto on May 22. However, a secretarial glitch and missing pages meant that on June 5, the entire bill was passed again and sent back to Bush for a second veto. Even with the glitch, all but the missing 32 pages regarding trade regulations have been enacted into law, ending an almost 18-month battle which saw the 2002 law extended five times.
Both senators from Missouri, Kit Bond (R) and Claire McCaskill (D) voted for the bill, as did Representative Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). Neither of the two presidential candidates, Senators John McCain (R) and Barack Obama (D), cast votes for the legislation.
Contact Marcia Gorrell at email@example.com