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Minnesota Watches as Congress Returns to Farm Bill

September 4, 2007

St. Paul, MN - Congress returns from its August recess today. A top agenda item is a new, far-reaching U.S. Farm Bill, which will impact everything from the rural economy to food prices, to nutrition programs.

Steve Francisco, with the Minnesota Budget Project, says as his group monitors action in the Senate, which will begin work on the new bill, one critical area of focus is nutrition.

"We're talking about some very big programs, including the Food Stamp program, which serves over 26 million Americans and more than 264,000 Minnesotans each month."

Francisco says other priorities include emergency funding for food shelves, and conservation and forestry programs. He says stagnant wages and an increasing cost of living have increased the need for food stamps, as well as the foot traffic at food shelves.

"We have people working in service-sector jobs where wages have been flat. You see more and more employers shifting healthcare costs on to the backs of their employees -- and they're in no better position to afford those costs than employers are. You're also seeing the cost of living going up for renters, and for people who may be on variable rate mortgages. Utilities, the price of gasoline, and the cost of just getting to work, are all going up."

Francisco notes that more than half of food stamp users are children. Still, he says, a lot of families don't know they'’re eligible, and don't sign up. He says the paperwork is another problem that should be addressed. And a final issue, he says, is who -- if anyone -- will receive farm subsidies.

"There are a lot of people getting a large amount of federal dollars, including people who are not directly engaged in family farming, and there is some question about whether they should be receiving those subsidies. I believe we're talking mainly about business interests or corporations that are participating in these programs. And, the amounts of money being spent have led to a lot of controversy."

The current farm bill expires at the end of the month. Whatever bill the Senate approves must be reconciled with the House version, which passed in July. The House bill includes an increase of $4 billion for federal nutrition programs.

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN