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Of the Earth: Federal farm bill is stalled, McGovern says

  • Congressman Jim McGovern, who is on the conference committee reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the federal farm bill, said efforts have stalled, with no more scheduled meetings. Staff File Photo

  • BLIXT



For the Recorder
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Don’t go looking for that pesky 2018 federal farm bill anytime soon. As a matter of fact, it’s likely to be 2019 before the bill surfaces again, and even then, it’s likely to “beat up on poor people” just about as much as it does now, in the words of Congressman Jim McGovern, who is on the conference committee that’s now hammering out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Or, maybe not.

“In short, it’s stalled,” the Worcester Democrat told me late last week. “There are no more conference committee meetings scheduled, and Speaker (Paul) Ryan has said he wants to send his people home by the end of the month. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll get anything passed.”

It’s an enormous — and enormously complicated — bill, with a 10-year price tag somewhere just south of $900 billion. And, McGovern said, there is a lot to agree on given the Senate version that was delivered with a strong 86-vote bipartisan approval. Money for land and soil conservation, cooperative extension and so on appears well within range of a compromise with the House, he said.

“If we brought the Senate version to the House floor today, it would pass,” McGovern said. “But (House) Speaker Ryan won’t allow it. This is red meat for some Republicans, a chance to beat up on poor people. Paul Ryan’s dream is welfare reform. Hunger has become a political issue.”

The sticking point, as many readers know, is the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or “SNAP,” more commonly known as food stamps, which accounts for about 80-percent of the farm bill. The Senate version of the bill leaves the program as is for 42 million recipients. But the Republican House version would directly cut SNAP benefits to nearly two million people, including:

■469,000 households with children;

■About 34 percent of seniors in the program, or 677,000 households;

■And more than one in 10 people with a disability, another 214,000 households.

In addition, the House version of the bill would also impose stricter work requirements on SNAP recipients, raising the work requirement age, for instance, from 49 to 59, and effectively stripping another 1.2 million people of benefits.

“This doesn’t reflect reality,” McGovern said. “A majority already work, many of them at low-wage jobs, and they receive benefits for less than a year. But there all these stereotypes out there about SNAP recipients, all these narratives being pushed by the Tea Party. They need to shut up and do what’s right.”

In Franklin County, with the rate of “food insecurity” at something like 12-percent, and with the bond between growers and SNAP recipients having grown especially strong due to the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), the fallout could be significant.

The SNAP cuts “betray the values of the American people,” McGovern told members of the conference committee at its initial meeting on Sept. 5. This is especially weird since both sides want a bill (and soon) given the approach of a new planting season, and the need for subsidies in the face of a building trade war.

This, of course, is not a political column. But politics aside, the farm bill is as much “Of the Earth” as the blueberries of Heath and Hawley, the sugar bush of Ashfield and Charlemont, the orchards of Deerfield and Shelburne, the corn fields of Sunderland, and the garlic of Orange. It sketches a map that is defined by the boundaries of our efforts in soil conservation, land preservation, cooperative extension, resource sustainability and water quality, and it defines what can reliably be found on our breakfast tables and on those of our neighbors.

But don’t go looking down wabbit holes for that pesky farm bill anytime soon. Just ask Ryan, “What’s up, doc?”

The Cutting Board

When Will it End?: How late will the sweet corn season go this year? Columbus Day? Later?

I’m running a contest. Be the closest to guess the date that the sign comes down at Ciesluk Farmstand in Deerfield and win a gallon of cider — the next season’s bounty. And please, continue to send recipes!

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.