September 19, 2013 | Comments (1) Source: USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service Food is as cheap now as it’s ever been. Is that a good thing? Today, I’ll make the argument that without cheap food, our economy could never have flourished as it has over the past century. Where once we spent over 20% of our disposable income on food for consumption at home, we now spend just under 6%. Shifts like that reverberate far beyond our food budgets, and create all sorts of positive benefits in other sectors of our economy. Feeding a lot more mouths in America As we talked about yesterday, advances in agricultural machinery, fertilizers, and genetically modified plants have made food shortages a thing of the past. These three forces have combined to make farming far more efficient: in 1930, the average farmer could feed about 10 people. By 1990, one farmer’s work could feed ten-fold the number of people. When you consider the nation’s population has grown from 123 million to 315 million since 1930, it’s a good thing these technologies were in place — otherwise, there’s no way we could feed 315 million mouths. A boon to the economy But beyond improved access to food, there are several other economic benefits that come with readily available food. First and foremost, when we aren’t spending such a large percentage of our income on food, there are lots of other places that we can spend it. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson showed in a 2012 article , the drastic difference in food spending allowed for other sectors of the economy to blossom.
Leaders separated the food stamp provision from the farm-subsidy legislation to ensure both bills would pass. The White House said the president would veto the legislation if it survived the Senate.Democrats argued that seniors and active duty military families would be kicked off the food stamp program and that free school lunches would end for more than 200,000 children. The House approved the bill 217 to 210, with more than a dozen Republicans opposed and no Democrats in favor. It’s unconscionable, in our view, to literally take food out of the mouths of hungry Americans in order to, again, achieve some ideological goal, said White House spokesman Jay Carney . The legislation is just terrible policy. And it’s insensitive. Republicans argued that $40 billion in reductions in the supplemental nutrition program over the next decade are needed to reduce a growing dependence on government programs. The number of Americans receiving food stamps skyrocketed during the Great Recession, from about 26 million in 2007 to nearly 47 million in 2012, according to the Agriculture Department, which administers the program. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) said the changes will preserve access to food stamps for those in need, while holding accountable those who are capable of helping themselves. Democrats argued otherwise. Theres only one word that comes to mind: cruel, said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) Now both the farm and food stamp bills will need to be merged with legislation from the Senate, which makes much more modest reductions in the nutrition program. The good news is, now that this vote is behind us, we are close to the finish line, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee. She called the House GOP effort a monumental waste of time. The Republican bill would change food stamp eligibility rules, in part by doing away with the ability of states to waive work-related requirements for able-bodied adults without children to continue receiving food stamps.
NC families go hungry as food assistance delayed
Photo: Gerry Broome In this Sept. 17, 2013, photo, Rahab Kinity cooks dinner for… In this Sept. 17, 2013, Rahab Kinity and her son Isaac have dinner together at their home in Raleigh, N.C. Unable to work due to cancer, Kinity has reached out to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to help feed her and Isaac. Photo: Gerry Broome In this Sept. 17, 2013, Rahab Kinity and her son Isaac have dinner… In this Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, photo, Rahab Kinity waits during an appointment at Duke Cancer Center in Raleigh, N.C. Kinity, unable to work due to cancer, applied weeks ago for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and she is still waiting. Photo: Gerry Broome In this Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, photo, Rahab Kinity waits during…
Why conservatives hate food stamps
The answer, says Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post , is that they see the program as “entitlement spending gone wild.” The right argues that the program has grown dangerously large during the Great Recession. Spending on food stamps doubled from 2000 to 2007, reaching $35 billion, then more than doubled again in the economic downturn, reaching $83 billion this year. One U.S. resident in seven now gets benefits in an average month, which works out to almost 48 million people. Marcus argues that just shows the program is working as it should, keeping the poor fed in hard times. But conservatives don’t see it that way. SEE ALSO: The last word: He said he was leaving. She ignored him. The right’s case against food stamps formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP goes like this, according to Henry Olsen at National Review . They “cost too much, have grown too quickly, encourage government dependency, and discourage work.” The Heritage Foundation is leading the charge. Rachel Sheffield, writing at the conservative think tank’s The Foundry blog , says trimming the program is essential to keep it from pinching the struggling middle class. Republicans say that four million of those receiving food stamps each month are able-bodied adults with no dependents, and that many of them do little, if any, paid work. (To be sure, most food stamp recipients are single mothers, children, the elderly, and the disabled.) SEE ALSO: Why the Pope’s groundbreaking comments on gays and abortion are so smart The optics are still bad though. Especially when you consider that the GOP’s farm bill leaves alone a subsidy that definitively breeds dependency and is growing just as fast, says Olsen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center: Government-financed crop insurance that costs $8.6 billion a year, with most of the loot going to farmers making upwards of $250,000 a year.