“Hunger is criminal; nourishment is an inalienable right,” proclaims Pope Francis. “It is a scandal that there is still hunger and malnutrition in the world! It is not just a question of responding to immediate emergencies, but of addressing together, at all levels, a problem that challenges our personal and social conscience, in order to achieve a just and lasting solution.”
The U.S. Congress will be addressing the issue of hunger and more agricultural-related questions in the coming weeks as it works to pass the 2018 Farm Bill. Originally developed during the Great Depression, the Farm Bill is reauthorized every five years and includes hundreds of programs from school nutrition and support for rural communities to international food aid and safety nets for the nation’s farmers.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in conjunction with Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Rural Life and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, has identified several key priorities in this year’s bill. The House Agricultural Committee is expected to “mark up” or draft the bill over a very quick two-week period next month. The reauthorization must be complete by September of this year.
The priorities outlined by the Bishops fall into three categories – Domestic Hunger and Nutrition, International Food Security and Development and Rural Support.
Critical domestic program includes:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities;
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), another Federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans, including elderly people, by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost; and
- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) works to improve the health of low-income elderly persons, women, children and infants by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA-supplied foods.
The U.S. Bishops and their partners are urging Congress to protect these programs and, in fact, strengthen SNAP through improving outreach, streamlining enrollment and other measures. “At the same time,” say the Bishops, “the Farm Bill should ensure support for the successful public-private partnership that the TEFAP program provides by ensuring access to short-term food assistance through food banks, soup kitchens and emergency shelters.”
Internationally, programs contained in the Farm Bill work to advance education, peace, local development and prevent famine. Most Americans vastly overestimate the amount of the Federal budget that goes to ALL foreign aid, not just food. Actually, total aid to the rest of the world is less than one percent of all Federal spending.
The Bishops point out that Congress has shown bipartisan support for programs such as Food for Peace, McGovern-Dole Food for Education and others. Many of them distribute U.S. grown commodities such as rice and wheat to people living in underdeveloped nations.
In rural communities, the Bishops are urging a reasonable amount of support for commodity and dairy farmers, continued support for farmers to diversify crops, gain access to new markets and receive technical assistance.
The USCCB is also supporting conservation measures and rural infrastructure investment.
With Congress expecting to complete the markup of the bill in only two weeks, there will be little time to advocate on all the critical issues in such a large bill. But as Pope Francis told Congress during his 2015 visit to the United States: “The fight against poverty and hunger constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”
For more details on the Farm Bill and nationwide advocacy efforts, visit the Agricultural Issues page at USCCB. Stay informed by visiting www.cacatholic.org and, particularly, our Action Alert page to send emails to your elected representatives debating the Farm Bill.