Nationwide – Congress is expected to begin work soon on the $140 billion farm bill, but there are concerns that some conservatives are targeting nutrition programs for cuts.

Food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and school lunches are a big part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget, and advocates fear they could become targets.

“There seems to be a difference of opinion between House Speaker (Paul) Ryan and Senate Majority Leader (Mitch) McConnell about whether they’re going to do welfare reform,” says James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, “which Ryan wants to do, and McConnell doesn’t, which sets a tone and a path that would affect the farm bill.”

Weill says the recently passed tax bill is projected to result in a $1.5 trillion deficit in the federal budget over the next decade.

He says some of the same Republicans who voted for the tax bill are now looking to cut social programs to shrink the deficit they created.

Weill points out SNAP and other food assistance plans make up about 70 percent of the USDA budget. He says while preserving those programs is the primary goal, some improvements are also needed.

“Agriculture committees have reasonably broad, bipartisan support for leaving the SNAP program largely alone, and not fixing the real problems, like benefits aren’t enough to get people through the month,” he states.

Weill says it’s critical for lawmakers to understand the value of SNAP and the working people who benefit from the program.

“SNAP reaches into every community of America in a fundamentally important way,” he stresses. “Not only is SNAP profoundly important to the economy and the anti-hunger effort, but a lot of the stereotypes of who it is going to and how it affects communities are not quite right.”

Weill says with several other major issues facing Congress, it could be spring before lawmakers take up the farm bill.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service