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September 22, 2013 07:25 PM UTC

Food Stamps, Jobs and [Junk] Food Subsidies

  • by: MichaelBowman

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy:  hypocrisy, fraud and tyranny"

~Frederick William Robertson

Last weeks vote in the House of Representatives, significantly gutting the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program [SNAP], was both an historic and a close vote.  Historic in the sense that it was stripped from the House version of the Farm Bill in July; an act not endorsed by either the Colorado Farm Bureau or the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.  Close, in the sense that in the final tally of 217-210: a different vote by any four members of the Republican caucus would have given us a different outcome.

In the final vote Colorado's House delegation fell along party lines with Gardner, Tipton, Coffman and Lamborn voting to gut nutrition assistance;  Polis, DeGette and Perlmutter opposing the cuts.  The four Colorado Republican votes supported the elimination of $40 billion from the nutrition program – and further eroding the long-standing partnership between the domestic agricultural interests and the social justice advocacy groups in farm bill negotiations. Think about that for a moment: one percent of the House of Representatives body – a mere four votes – determining the fate of food security for 15% of all Americans, including 186,000 Colorado households. And given their response, little sleep was lost with their vote.

The July vote, which for the first time in decades separated the nutrition support from commodity subsidy payments by a score of 216-208, could also have produced a different outcome as well with just four Republicans voting differently. In that vote, only two of Colorado's seven House members, Gardner and Tipton, supported the House version even though it was opposed by both state farm organizations. 

The bill now heads to a conference committee where conferee's, which includes Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, will attempt to reconcile the dramatic differences between the Senate version [$4 billion] and the House version [$40 billion] in proposed cuts to SNAP. They have until the end of September before the current farm bill expires to agree on the differences.

Don't look for this attack on our poor to be the last.  The House conservatives are going after cuts to the poor and hungry because they believe it is politically safe to do so. It's moral hypocrisy. Our job as neighbors and members of Colorado's rural communities should be to make it politically unsafe for politicians to go after them.  SNAP is the perfect target – complete with whom it serves being widely distorted by the media – and poses little political risk to the careers of most Republican members. 

The Durango Herald calls out Congressman Tipton as a "Reverse Robin Hood"

The farm bill that U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, proudly promotes on his website proposes slashing funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly “food stamps”) while increasing funds for crop insurance. This simply is choosing to subsidize one relatively wealthy constituency – farmers and agribusiness – at the expense of another less well off, the poor and working poor.

Prior to last week's vote my Congressman, Cory Gardner, had this to say:

“I’m anxious about it,” said Gardner, a few hours before the vote. “I’m glad we’re moving forward on a path that should complete the farm bill but the road has not been easy. I don’t want to be overconfident at any point.”

Congressman Doug Lamborn, a man who represents a district whose economy would collapse without the federal transfers of payments that come along with the local military complex couldn't help himself:  [the Congressman also has quite a “sweet tooth” for Sugar PAC’s – more on that later in this post]:

"“These reforms are necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected from fraud and abuse,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. “It is also not too much to ask that able-bodied adults without dependents should be required to work in order to collect food stamps.”

By reform Lamborn means, "let's annihilate the safety net for the least amongst us,while lavishing upon the domestic sugar market some of the most lucrative, taxpayer-subsidized programs in Washington".  You'd think that one of the most conservative members of Congress would reject such welfare, right? 

Not so much.  

Sugar makes up 1.9% of the value of US agricultural production. Yet the sugar industry spends 34% of the lobbying money and makes 55% of agricultural PAC contributions. Lamborn feeds at that proverbial trough. And being the good, solid fiscal conservative that he claims you'd think he'd reject the House version of the Farm Bill because it will actually increase farm program spending over time? 

Not so much.

He failed to make any mention that the House version strips out most of the 2018 sunset provisions contained in the previous version, making the subsidy ridden 2013 bill the new permanent law. The new permanent provisions increase farm spending: the new "shallow loss income entitlement programs", expanded crop insurance, the new profit margin insurance for dairy and the resurrected government-set prices.  Last but not least, the market distorting sugar subsidies.

As of today we have no direct comment by Congressman Mike Coffman.  But, 135 recipients in his district have received just over $6 million in payments between 1995-2012 for retiring their land from production.  And according to ERS data, Arapahoe County alone has nearly 50,000 SNAP recipients.

But I digress –  back to those dastardly frauds who are gaming the food stamp program:

Congressman Cantor weighed in as well: 

"No law-abiding beneficiary who meets the income and asset tests of the current program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose their benefits under the bill."

Too bad that's not true.  Anyone looking for work and willing to take any job they can find, but can't land a job in three months, would see their food assistance ripped away.  No one would know that from Cantor's soothing statement.

I've written before about the nexus between SNAP and rural Colorado residents focusing on my home Congressional district, CD-4 and my Congressman, Cory Gardner. While Cory doesn't personally enjoy the largess of the ag subsidy payments like Congressman Steve Fincher, who believes his form of social welfare is acceptable, my Congressman understands his family business, selling agricultural implements, benefits from a stable, predictable agricultural marketplace: less than 3,000 recipients in his home county have collected over one-half billion dollars in subsidy payments between 1995-2012.  Yes.  That's 'billion'.  With a 'b'. 

Before I get too deep into this post I want to make one thing crystal clear:  I am an advocate of safety nets; I am supportive of the many federal mandates that have created significant markets for Colorado farmers, including the Renewable Fuels Standard  As a fifth-generation rural Coloradan I steadfastly believe our opportunities outweigh our challenges.  Today we live in a global economy that has had significant consequences to both our labor pool and the movement and value of our produced goods around the world.  It is both prudent and necessary to maintain national policy that both buoys a domestic labor pool and supports that workforce with training and basic safety nets.  It's one component of a 'system' that builds the capacity for international commerce. The same system of support that provides us with a foundation for a predictable food supply.   These worlds can and do co-exist;  neither can live in a vacuum.

The root of our challenge is 'jobs', or better said, 'lack thereof'.  Between the years 2000-2009 we lost 6 million manufacturing jobs in the US.  That number represents half of the unemployed looking for jobs today.  Corporatists running Capitol Hill have convinced us this is an inevitability as we acquiesce in this global "Race to the Bottom".  And although the 'we must have cheap labor to compete' narrative is the one we are fed a daily diet of, don't fall for it.  It's false. The US ranks 11th in the world on minimum wage – and our income disparity is widening. Germany builds twice the cars of US automakers while paying its workers twice as much.  The myth that low wages – which leads to a growing need for government support in the absence of a living wage – will devastate an economy – is "Washington-speak". 

And by "Washington-speak" I mean, "lie".

Let's take a look at just one of the initiatives Congress has had the opportunity to address and compare it to the costs of subsidized corn and wheat production in CD4.  For this example I'll use the National Infrastructure Bank.  At a proposed cost of $10 billion, the bank would create an estimated 500,000 jobs.  For less than three times the money US taxpayers have sent to Congressman Gardner's agricultural community, half-a-million new jobs could have been created.  And while Speaker Boehner [who to his credit has not supported the stripping of gutting of the food assistance program from the Farm Bill] says this Congress should judged by the number of laws they repeal, not the number of bills they pass.  At last count, the number of failed attempts at repealing only one thing, the Afforadable Health Care Act, now stand at 42.  His number of repeals, which he says is his standard-bearer for how we should judge him, stands at "Zero". 

A vote on a "Jobs Bill", anyone?

I'm not suggesting the presence of the subsidies is bad;  but like any long-term federal support system, the contemporary application of a support system decades old is in need of a serious overhaul.  And by overhaul, I mean a different animal than the 113th Congress is giving us. 

I'm attempting to put the hypocrisy in perspective:  some 12,000 recipients in Congressman Gardner's district have received in excess of $1.1 billion in Conservation Reserve Payments between 1995-2012.  Farmers – paid to "unemploy" their land; paid – to produce nothing for the marketplace.  Sounding familiar?

This past year the USDA was forced to intervene into the domestic sugar market to prevent mass defaults of loans by the sugar industry, which included Colorado's Western Sugar Cooperative.  The sugar industry has become addicted  to cheap government cash; during the past nine years the government has lent $8.8 billion to sugar processors. The 2012 loans were granted with an interest rate of 1.125 percent to 1.250 percent.  A clause [compliments of the Capitol Hill sugar lobby] in the subsidized loan program allows beet and cane sugar producers to walk away from their loans, forfeiting the collateral – sugar – instead, leaving the American taxpayer on the hook for the deficits in their loans.  In an effort to prevent defaults with Colorado sugar producers, USDA purchased an estimated  $3.6 million of their sugar and sold it at a loss of $2.7 million [it was sold for $900,000] to Front Range Energy to produce ethanol fuel. Eastern plains farmers are the direct beneficiary of this federal intervention – complete with taxpayer dollars.

I hope by this point in this diary that any "secessionist, neo-conservative, flag-waving, free-market" resident of CD4 is becoming uncomfortable.  We in rural Colorado are neither independent nor immune from our role in a statewide economy.  As a state that sends slightly more money to the US Treasury than we get in return, this means that all forms of federal transfers inside our boundaries are paid in full by all Colorado taxpayers.  All of them.  That means the $3.5 billion in agricultural subsidies mailed to CD4 were covered by predominantly non-rural Coloradans; the loan forfeiture program used by the eastern Colorado sugar producers was effectively funded by, you guessed it, non-rural Coloradans.  The billions of dollars in wind farms already established in eastern Colorado to satisfy the Xcel renewable electricity standard?  Made possible by non-rural Coloradans.

According to Hunger Free Colorado, of the 186,000 households in Colorado that rely on SNAP, 56% of them have children under the age of 18. 82% of the households had one full-time worker and 41% have at least one person with a disability. The question is whether the  tens-of-thousands of children living in childhood poverty in his district even crossed his mind when he recently traveled on a junket to Ireland,  where he received $166 a day for food and didn't pay a dime for the trip; for one meal alone they given a $200 allowance.  Yet, the idea of taking a vote that will take 55,000 Coloradans off of food assistance seems natural.  Almost automatic.

The families of veterans, farmers, the disabled and the working poor are no longer visible to the most fringe elements of Congress.  Not even when they are their own constituents.  And today, while we live with such societal challenges in CD-4 as the pervasive numbers of children living in childhood poverty, Cory is spending his leadership chits promoting [Koch-backed] out-of-state legislation, the “Aquatic Resource of National Importance Act".  No, this isn't a bill to restore the waters of Bonny State Park.  This is a bill to gut the federal regulations preventing oil drilling in a community on the North Slope of Alaska, well over 2,000 miles from Congressman Gardner's hometown of Yuma.

As Frederick William Robertson said, "there should be no mercy for hypocrisy".


20 thoughts on “Food Stamps, Jobs and [Junk] Food Subsidies

  1. Nice work, Bowman. So if I understand this: federal taxpayers are subsidizing Colorado sugar beet farmers with low interest loans to grow sugar. But when these farmers can't profit on it, and default on their loans, the government buys back the sugar, and sells it to farmers to make ethanol.

    It does seem like at least two steps could be cut out of that loop: just directly subsidize to make ethanol.  Is anyone talking about doing that?

    I would guess that the market for white food sugar is slowly ticking down as people begin to make healthier choices; but perhaps I'm not seeing the big picture.

    1. Bam.  The plus over a generation ago [when they would have bought the sugar and done 'Lord-knows-what' with it, including landfilling it] is that we have an ethanol industry that can turn it in to something useful.  We corn farmers had the right to do the same thing with corn years ago, too. The government would give us a loan on our harvested crop and when the loan was due we could just 'give them the corn' as opposed to paying them back if the corn was worth less than the loan amount due.  And in both cases the taxpayer picked up the difference.

      The take away from that remark is that because of the renewable fuel standard, we have improved the utility of the corn crop, generally raised it's prices to a point where I would argue they no longer need a subsidy system beyond a prudent production insurance program, and its giving us a valuable energy product to keep oil prices more in check than they would be in our absence.

      The core problem is there is simply too much sugar on the world market, and that has been true for a long time. The beet sugar grown by our local farmers is a really good product – and I'd prefer we found a way to make that system work and stop subsidizing the cheap cane sugar in Florida for human consumption.  But then, that's in the ever-elusive, 'perfect world'.  As I mentioned, the sugar industry is a tiny fraction of our agricultural production – yet fund the majority of agriculturally-based PAC's in DC.  If you want to read an interesting indictment on the industry go here: it's written in 2003 – but is quite applicable to today:

  2. As always, Michael…A+.

    There was a time when I thought Cory might be just a little less vile than his peers in the Greedy Old Patriarchs party.

    I was wrong.

    1. I certainly wish he was using his influence in more productive ways on behalf of ALL of his constituents.  Once again, four white guys [Gardner, Lamborn, Tipton & Coffman] could have given us a different outcome – or at the very least, a grown-up discussion on a practical resolve. That caucus could benefit from fewer "Y" chromosomes.

      Of the $5.43 billion dollars in federal subsidies that have been disbursed to Colorado farmers between the years 1995-2012, 67% of them – $3.64 billion – are bestowed upon the farmers of CD4 – which is, effectively the proposed boundary of the proposed 51st state, "Dumphuckistan"

      Of the $1.27 billion given to 16,000 producers in Colorado to retire their land – effectively 'food stamps for fragile land' – 79% of those producers are in Gardner's CD4; for that effort, those 79% garner 87.6% of the all payments to Colorado farmers. 

      12,570 producers receiving $1.1 billion to retire their land from production.  Paid for by residents of all seven Congressional districts – the bulk of those dollars coming from non-rural sources.

      A "War on Rural Colorado"? 



  3. Why don't the fake inept  libertarian posters here criticize all these farm subsidies.

    The argeument is not about cheap food. The argument is about why Congress should pick winners and losers.

    SNAP is a mess – and will continue to be as long as agribusiness and food distributors get to decide which simulated food products can be included or not. SNAP should provide food, not non-food. Even when the non-food tastes good or is otherwise really popular.

    As for the farm giveaways – I remember a time when farm programs were loan programs intended to stabilize prices, to smooth out the seasonal disparity and cyclic nature that caused massive and avoidable problems to  the agriculutural class.  But at some point the "loans" became welfare. And because most farms are part of large corporations  – corporate welfare.  So the "farm bill" ends up with the most bizarre visual – we must subsidize agribusiness, but we must insist on personal responsiblity for individuals tring to feed themselves and their families.


    1. 1) you're dealing with people who claim our working poor aren't really poor because they have refrigerators, phones and TV. Apparently the working poor are supposed to spend every moment working at a  non-loving wage job, eating whatever they can manage without a means of storing any fresh food and sleeping. Period. They don't need assistance if they indulge in any means of communication or even the most modest form of entertainment, such as watching a game on TV when they aren't sleeping or working. 

      2) Libertarians never complain about most subsidies, not just farm subsidies. None of the subsidies that benefit the wealthiest seem to bother them in the slightest. That's because they are roughly divided into two categories. Complete hypocrites and those who are sincere but don't have as much sense as the average toaster. I say roughly because the lines are so often blurred. It's quite possible to be a complete hypocrite and also none too bright. More than possible … more like very likely.

    2. madcow – I abhor subsidies of any kind.  If the government would just stop stealing money from hard working Americans (some call it tax), there would be a whole lot more charitable giving.  Of course that would only apply to conservatives.  It is a universal fact that liberals are too cheap to give.  (How many sources do you want for that one?)   Liberals are very good at telling others how much they should give, however.

  4. Thanks for the article Michael.

    More than half of Coloradans who rely on SNAP–52 percent–are children. So does Lamborn think these kids are guilty of fraud and abuse? 

        1. A perfect refutation of the theory that the private for profit sector does everything better, more efficiently and cheaper than the government can. Never has there been such an explosion of wasteful tax dollar spending and epic corruption as we've seen since we started contracting out so many of the functions our military used to perform for themselves. 

          Everything from fabulously inflated costs for privately contracted bad food food and laundry services to private armies of mercenaries paid six figures while our soldiers families back home are so often among Romney's 47% who don't earn enough to pay federal income taxes. Of  course the regressive taxes they and all other low income earners pay amount to bigger chunks of their earnings than what most of Romney's buddies pay. Especially compared to the many in the top .01 and .001 percent (the Romney crowd. The average mere 1 percenter is a peasant compared to them) who pay nothing. Also many military families are among the "parasites" on food stamps. 

          So tax payers get to pay exponentially more for all the private sector contractors while also paying to make up for the fact that soldiers often don't make a living wage for their families. Kind of like the situation with Walmart employees who use SNAP and CHIP and whatever else it takes to keep their families above water on the tax payers', not the billionaires', dime.


          We don't hear righties or so called Libertarians or so called Tea Party Patriots complaining about any wasteful spending or any tax burdens as long as the spending goes to people such as the elite corporate war profiteers and billionaires in general and the tax burden falls on everybody else. 


          Why Joe Six Pack who doesn't make enough to pay much, if any, federal income tax but who pays all payroll and other taxes,  thinks any change one way or the other in federal income tax rates is going to affect him is a neat trick accomplished by rightie lies that go unchallenged by Dem pols still scared of being called too (fate worse than death) liberal but that's another discussion.

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