Why are food stamps part of the Farm Bill?

Food stamps grew from rural efforts to get urban support for farm subsidies.

Jeremy Hobson: In Washington today, the House Agriculture Committee is set to take up the Farm Bill -- which sounds like legislation that's all about farming, but in fact about three-quarters of it goes to fund food stamps and other nutrition programs.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer: There’s been an explosive expansion of the food stamp program. To understand why, you have to go back to the ‘90s and President Clinton’s welfare reform, which trimmed welfare rolls. To help those cut off, Congress and President Bush made it easier to qualify for food stamps. That was in 2002. Since then, the food stamp program has more than doubled.

Sheila Zedlewski  is a public policy analyst at the Urban Institute.

Sheila Zedlewski: Enrollment was about 18 million people and now it’s about 46 million people.

That’s about one in seven Americans. Many of them lost their jobs during the great recession. But why is the food stamp program in the farm bill, anyway? Like most things in Washington, it all boils down to politics.

Chad Hart is an economist at Iowa State. He says farm-state legislators needed a way to connect with more urban members of Congress, so the city slickers would support farm subsidies.

Chad Hart: And the easiest way was through nutrition. Talking about food programs. Bringing the food that’s produced in the countryside into the city.

And bringing Washington’s political games into the barnyard.

I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...