Food pantry reacts to new farm bill

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - President Obama signed a major piece of bipartisan legislation into law Friday, the long-awaited Farm Bill.

The new bill will expand federal crop insurance and end direct government payments that go to farmers, whether they produce anything or not.

However, the bulk of its $100 billion-per-year cost is for the federal food stamp program, SNAP, that aids one in seven Americans.

Almost 80 percent will go to SNAP, but this is actually a cut in funding by one percent, or $800 million a year.

Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas executive director Christie Jordan said she is a little disappointed with the cuts, but it could have been much worse.

"They were talking about really some significant cuts to SNAP, and that could have really, really impacted our work and the clients that we serve," Jordan said. "So we're just happy with the resolution that they reached and think that it will be fine for northeast Arkansas."

Nearly 78,000 people depend on food stamps in the 12 counties the food bank serves. But since Congress agreed on a smaller funding cut, Jordan said these people will not go hungry.

The five-year bill will also increase funding for another federal food assistance program.

Jordan said the Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, is seeing a moderate funding increase with the new bill.

This federal program, with the help of state and local agencies like the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, provides USDA food to low-income Americans at no cost.

"We're glad to see they are gonna do some increase in the funding for the TEFAP program, or our commodity program," Jordan said.

Jordan said an increase in funding means less hungry people.

"The government actually utilizes the commodity program to stabilize farm prices," Jordan said. "So these are American-grown products, manufactured products, that are distributed to families that are living at the poverty level. And so it helps to support farms in America, but it also supports families in need."

TEFAP supplies more than 85 different commodities, including canned vegetables, fruits and meats.

"It's some of the most nutritious food we're able to distribute," Jordan said. "And we go out into communities every week of the year and do a commodity distribution somewhere in our 12 counties in northeast Arkansas."

Jordan said an additional layer in the Farm Bill, bonus commodities, could help even more.

"If there's an area of agriculture that maybe is suffering or prices are not stable in the market, they will buy some of those products," Jordan said. "And then those also are distributed to food banks so we can distribute those to families in need."

Jordan said it is too early to tell if the food bank will be able to help even more people.

"But I'm comfortable with saying we're not gonna see a decrease," Jordan said. "And so just knowing that there's that stability there helps us with thinking about our distribution levels for the year and how we need to plan."

Jordan said the Farm Bill has some flaws, but she is just happy Congress reached a resolution.

"That's gonna mean that we can continue this service to our neighbors in need in northeast Arkansas," Jordan said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill to cost around $96 billion annually.

Almost 80 percent of the money will go to the federal food stamp program, 15 percent to farm and crop insurance subsidies, and the rest to conservation, rural development, renewable energy and other farm programs.

For additional information about the Farm Bill, visit the following links:

U.S. House of Representatives Roll Call

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