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Down with the 'hunger weirdos'

Battle over farm bill nutrition funding gets tense.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

May 21, 2024

3 Min Read
Serving soup at homeless shelter during COVID
Getty Images/Halfpoint

For all the niceties from Congressional Republicans about their “bipartisan” farm bill, there is growing contempt between the two parties. While Republicans want to present their bill as an honest compromise, it doesn’t take long to see just how far apart the two parties are when it comes to nutrition spending.

This debate is more than just the usual discussions about how to allocate federal funds. It strikes at the core of the vast philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Over the past year, Congressional Democrats have consistently vowed to oppose any farm bill that cuts nutrition funding. House Republicans say their farm bill proposal meets those demands. Dems beg to differ.

According to Republicans, their bill will not cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. In fact, they say it will allow more families to participate in nutrition programs. The legislation includes policies to promote healthy eating, and provisions preventing future officials from dismantling the program. On the surface, it sounds like pretty bipartisan stuff.

Things get more complicated when it comes to USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan.

Cold-hearted cut or responsible budgeting?

The Thrifty Food Plan is a model USDA uses to determine the cost of a healthy diet for an average family of four. It takes into consideration dietary needs based on current science, food prices and evolving eating habits. This formula is then used to determine how much households receive through SNAP.

Related:Policy quick hits: The farm bill reaction edition

Previously, the model was not updated on a regular basis. The 2018 Farm Bill called for the Thrifty Food Plan market basket to be updated every five years. In 2021, USDA updated it for the first time since 2006. This increased benefits by approximately $1.19 per person.

When Congressional appropriators established the “baseline,” or budget, for the 2024 Farm Bill, it included estimates for future Thrifty Food Plan updates. Republicans now want to revise those updates, only allowing for changes that are “cost neutral.” This essentially reduces the nutrition title’s budget by $27 billion.

USDA data shows a sharp increase in food insecurity over the past two years. Agency officials cite rising inflation and the end of pandemic-era nutrition programs as contributing factors.

According to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of local food banks, one in six Americans relied on food assistance in 2022. Earlier this month, the group released a report saying the additional money people need to have sufficient food is the highest it’s been in 20 years.

Related:Farm bill progress or posturing?

But don’t mention Feeding America around some Republicans. According to one GOP staffer, the organization is one of the “hunger weirdos” that are “in the business of poverty.”  That staffer contends those weirdos are actually billion-dollar organizations “receiving dollars that keep people hungry.”

Now I’m no accountant and I’ve never seen the group’s balance sheet. Still, it’s hard to believe more than 44 million people receiving food assistance are going hungry because of it.

Sure, there are debates to be had about societal problems. Still, it’s one thing to propose an alternative. Throwing a nonprofit under the bus is completely different. One Democrat staffer was a little less diplomatic with their response.

“What’s weird is that Republicans think taking food away from children and seniors makes our country stronger and more secure,” the staffer said. “What do Republicans live on? Bread made from the ground bones of poor people?”

Republicans insist that their proposed farm bill keeps nutrition funding at current levels. This is true. However, it is also true that future funding budgeted for nutrition programs would now be used on other priorities. Some may argue that’s a good decision, but they can’t say it isn’t a cut.

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About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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