On May 9th, 25 faculty, students, and fellows descended on Capitol Hill to share FLPC and FBLE’s research and help Congress write a better farm bill.
FBLE timed the trip to coincide with debate over the House farm bill, H.R. 2, which came to the floor this week. As we’ve explained elsewhere on this blog, H.R. 2 contains policy changes that would harm farmers, eaters and the environment.
Over the course of the day, 9 groups held 77 meetings with legislators and staffers on both sides of the House and Senate. During these meetings, organized in conjunction with Food Policy Action, FBLE partners shared research and findings from FBLE’s recently published reports and discussed concerns about policies in the house version of the farm bill that do not align with report recommendations.
Each group honed in on particular areas of concern during their meetings. Some focused on recommendations from FBLE’s report, Food Access, Nutrition, and Public Health, and highlighted the dangers of the proposed expansion of work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The best moment of the trip was a conversation with a conservative member’s staff. Although we all did not agree on the role of SNAP plays in a person’s life, we came to a consensus that a work requirement, as designed in the current house bill, would hurt and not help people on the program. -Gordon Merrick, Vermont Law School
Others discussed how local food programs touted in FBLE’s report Diversified Agricultural Economies face deep cuts or outright elimination in H.R. 2. If Congress cannot pass a farm bill before the current law expires in September, many of the “tiny but mighty” local foods programs will disappear. If we get to September without a new farm bill, Congress will almost certainly be forced to extend provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill. If this comes to pass, it is critical that these small programs receive special attention since they would not survive under the terms of a simple extension.
It was very interesting to get a window into the political process and see how various offices accepted or denied certain portions of the Farm Bill in order to get small things for their constituencies. My work with FBLE was invaluable to being able to speak competently and confidently on both SNAP and local food programs. -Mary Stottele, Harvard Law School
Still other groups outlined FBLE’s concerns about H.R. 2’s exacerbation of the current system of farm subsidy loopholes and weakening of already lacking conservation programs, as discussed in FBLE’s report, Productivity and Risk Management. We were able to speak directly with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Chairman of the powerful House Freedom Caucus, and share that in North Carolina the largest 3% of farms receive over 80% of farm bill subsidies. Mr. Meadows seemed very concerned with our research showing H.R. 2 would open further loopholes that further increase the subsidy disparities between mega-farms and the great majority of farms in his state.
Finally, several groups focused on educating lawmakers on the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA)–the so-called “King Amendment”–an extraordinary provision included in H.R. 2 that would prohibit states from enforcing their own laws when they set higher standards than other states. As a recent analysis from our colleagues at the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Program shows, no one is able to predict the consequences of this language, which would “fundamentally transform the balance of regulatory authority between the states and the federal government by eliminating virtually all state legislative police powers with respect to any agricultural product entering a state for sale.”
This was direct participatory democracy at its best. Having the chance to engage in these conversations, and especially to have the opportunity to understand where those with differing views were coming from and explore opportunities for bipartisan agreement, was exciting and heartening. -Emilie Aguirre, UCLA Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy
Through all of these meetings, we were able to advance FBLE’s recommendations for creating a more equitable farm bill with better opportunities for all farmers, a better safety net against hunger, and better conservation of the natural resources we share. Stay tuned for more analysis in the coming days!