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Congressional Republicans could imperil both the welfare-reform and the farm-bill reform efforts by failing to learn from history and making the same unforced errors they did three years ago.
Next year, Congress is set to consider a comprehensive agriculture bill (aka “farm bill”), as well as reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps), the nation’s largest food-assistance program.
Farm - Bills - Policy - Welfare - Programs
Farm bills have long combined agricultural policy with welfare programs that provide food assistance to lower-income Americans.
But conflating two separate policy questions prevents real reform from occurring to either.
Agriculture - Welfare - Issues - Farm - Bill
Combining agriculture and welfare issues in the farm bill is a classic example of “logrolling,” in which legislators secure support for their programs that would not pass without significant reforms if they were considered separately.
Legislators who support unreformed food-assistance programs and those who support wasteful farm subsidies thus have an incentive to work together to maintain, if not expand, their favored programs.
Process - Legislators - Accountability - Example - Legislators
The process also helps legislators avoid accountability. For example, legislators who would otherwise oppose food stamp legislation without meaningful reform can point to unrelated agricultural programs as the reason for voting for the farm bill.
This allows legislators to pass “status quo” bills, in which food assistance and farm programs do not receive in-depth evaluations.
Process - Hurts - Welfare - Recipients - Taxpayers
Furthermore, the current process hurts welfare recipients and taxpayers.
Under the current process, the food stamp program is reauthorized periodically. Reauthorization occurs too infrequently for legislators to ensure that the program is meeting the needs of its beneficiaries.
Process - Room - Reforms - Welfare - Recipients
Additionally, the current process leaves little room for reforms that would put able-bodied welfare recipients on a path to self-sufficiency.
Taxpayers are also regularly expected to shoulder the high costs of the farm bill. Food stamp spending alone is close to double what it was in 2008, which itself doubled from the early 2000s.
Time - Farm - Bill
In 2013, the last time the farm bill was due...
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It had only one fault, it was useless.