Is our democracy still working?

Author: Kate Fitzgerald

Unfinished Farm Bill. Government Shutdown. Debt Limit Approaching. Is our democracy still working? 

Congressional committees are now in their third year of Farm Bill deliberations, the last Farm Bill has now expired for the second time and almost the whole government is shut down. There are only so many times I can write monthly blog posts updating readers on the legislative process before I start to feel ridiculous. But the situation is not totally desperate.

It may be exasperating, and it’s certainly not efficient, but this is the way democracy works sometimes. We are going through a rough patch, but improving the food system cannot happen overnight, and there are thousands of people doing the hard work of making that happen every day, and government will catch up with them.

The current Farm Bill expired on September 30 and the future of its programs is now entwined in larger debates about federal spending for the next year and how to address the country’s debt ceiling limit. Because there are so many competing priorities, it is probable that Congress will include new farm policy (or an extension of existing programs) as part of a larger negotiated fiscal package. You may remember that is what happened last year.

The $40 billion cut to SNAP over ten years included in the House Farm Bill will make it harder to reconcile with the Senate’s limited $4 billion change to program rules; however, aside from SNAP funding, both bills have other excellent nutrition provisions:

  • Both provide funds for national expansion of incentive programs such as Double Up Food Bucks.
  • Both include authority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide financing for healthy food stores in underserved communities and make it easier to use SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture).
  • Both increase funding to develop food hubs to connect local farmers with schools and grocery stores and boost support for the production of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Healthy food advocates are doing great work around the country every day. Remember to tell your elected officials about what you are doing. The more Congress hears from people like you the sooner we will get the legislation you need to help your programs grow.