Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee dished up treats for the insurance and chemical industries, while handing empty bowls to millions of struggling Americans.


The farm bill that cleared committee April 18 does nothing to increase transparency or accountability in the crop insurance program which pumps billions of taxpayer dollars into increasingly foreign-owned insurance companies.

Insurance company profits from taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance have risen to a 35-percent return on investment, reports the Government Accountability Office, which recommends saving federal dollars by pegging the return to market rates. The House Agriculture Committee ignored that idea and bragged of making few changes in the $9 billion program. Insurers’ returns have climbed even while farm income has declined in recent years.

The House farm bill also does nothing to curb crop insurance fraud, such as the alleged $2.6 million that federal prosecutors claim a Bourbon County farmer illegally pocketed.

But it does impose harsh new requirements to receive food stamps. Failing to meet new monthly paperwork deadlines could result in a three-year lockout from nutrition aid. Work requirements would be expanded to more people, including parents of school-age children, while the new rules would drive up administrative costs. An estimated 2 million people could lose food assistance, says the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Kentucky Congressman James Comer, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, applauds the bill and says full funding guarantees enough slots in education and training programs to allow food stamp recipients to satisfy the work requirements.

About 640,000 or 14 percent of Kentuckians participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides about $1.40 a meal. That’s Kentucky’s lowest SNAP enrollment since before the Great Recession.

Need is highest in rural Kentucky where jobs are scarce and poverty common. More than 1 in 4 households (27.6 percent) in Eastern Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District receive nutrition assistance. Next highest is Comer’s 1st District where SNAP helps 14.3 percent afford food.

Rural areas also would be most hurt by the House bill’s weakening of protections against pesticide exposure for farm workers, waterways and endangered species. Local governments would be banned from adopting pesticide restrictions that exceed federal rules.

Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee say the crop insurance program enjoys widespread support as is. But a farm group in Minnesota disagrees, saying “the long-term resiliency of our farmland” is at risk. Unlimited insurance payments reward raising monoculture crops on erodible soils and drive land prices beyond small farms’ reach. “Crop insurance gives the most to those who need the least, and penalizes farmers for using a diversity of crops and livestock to manage risk,” reports the Land Stewardship Project.

Farm bills are enacted about every five years with bipartisan support. Whisked through committee with no Democratic input, this bill should reach the House floor next month where there will be pressure to deny food to even more people.

Work lends life meaning, but it’s hard to work or study on an empty belly. A country that can richly subsidize foreign insurance companies can surely feed its own people.