Food stamps grew from rural efforts to get urban support for farm subsidies.
Food stamps grew from rural efforts to get urban support for farm subsidies. - 
Listen To The Story

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.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.