Every five years or so Congress enacts a “farm bill.” Those two words are misleading. It’s really a food bill. A trade bill. A jobs bill. An energy bill. An education and research bill. A forest bill. And, a this-is-the-kind-of-legislation-that-shows-why-you-should-elect-me, bill.
This is Trahant Reorts
Regaining our Future a new report by the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative says Native people are this continent’s first agricultural people, deeply involved in complex systems, and domesticating crops that are still eaten today.
Of course Congress won’t be spending much time on that point. But the farm bill will shape how indigenous people are fed.
The most important section of the bill for Indian Country deals with nutrition programs, representing 80 percent of the bill’s costs. JanieHipp, speaking at the Native American Journalists Association earlier this month, said many tribes depend such programs to feed people, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. That was the original Food Stamps program, created in the 1960s as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on hunger. Regaining our Future said nearly 25 percent, and in many communities more than 50 percent, of tribal citizens directly access or rely on federal feeding programs.
There are two versions of the Farm Bill, one in the House, and another in the Senate. The two houses will soon negotiate final language through a conference committee and then that compromise must be enacted again by each body.
The Senate has a bipartisan approach, especially in provisions that deal with Indian Country. While the House version of the Farm bill only has support from Republicans.
The Senate version also includes several tribal priorities, according to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. This includes:
— A tribal self-determination project let tribes create their own food distribution programs, serving about 90,000 Native Americans.
— Set up a tribal advisory committee on agriculture and ranching.
— Allow more grants to tribal colleges and universities for food-related research.
— Promote international trade for tribal producers.
— And a study of the impact of foods fraudulently marketed as Native American produced goods.
The House bill would cut nutrition funding from SNAP — and some 1.2 million adults would lose benefits because of the proposed stricter work requirements, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The work rules means states and tribes will have to set up an administrative structure to make this happen. And in some tribal communities that will also mean that jobs will have to be created because they do not now exist.
The politics of this massive farm bill remain an open question. Last May members of the House Freedom Caucus tanked their own party’s measure in order to take a stand on immigration. And some of those House members are not keen on any nutrition programs.
There is also a chance that Congress could pass a short-term extension of the farm bill. But that would move the contested issues — especially the fight over food stamps — squarely past the election and the prospect of a Democratic Party controlling the House.
I am Mark Trahant.