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Farm Bill affects local farmers, food banks

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Amarillo, TX - Nearly a trillion dollars to help our farmers and feed our neighbors is on the table in Washington.  And whatever Congress decides will be felt right here in the panhandle.

The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of legislation that effectively sets the budget for programs like crop insurance and food stamps.  And it technically expired last September, but the American Taxpayer Relief Act that averted the "fiscal cliff: extended it for another year - so now it's up for renewal.

And after failing in the House on Thursday (Jun. 20), billions of dollars in federal aid is still in limbo. 

The point of most contention was the more than $20 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.  The cuts would be made by restricting eligibility requirements, which would affect thousands in the panhandle; and consequently, our local food bank, which is already at its capacity.

"People that would lose their benefits; there'd be about 2,900 in the area that we cover," says Broc Carter of the High Plains Food Bank, "so we're looking at 2,900 new people needing food assistance from the food bank.  2,900 people - it may seem like a small number, but when you think about a family - those are real individuals with real families that need that food assistance."

But the Farm Bill also covers vital agriculture programs like some subsidies and crop insurance, which protects against disasters like the drought of 2011.  The Texas Panhandle suffered an estimated $2 billion loss in that year's record drought.

According to a House Agriculture Committee report, federal crop insurance overall has sustained about $12 billion in cuts over the last five years.

"No matter what happens, agriculture's going to be worse off," says Dr. Stephen Amosson, an economist with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension in Amarillo, "You know, like if you all of a sudden got paid, or got paid insurance for a whole lot less income...are you better off? No."

The current farm bill is set to expire on September 30th.

If you'd like to see analyses from the Congressional Research Service or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, follow the links attached to this story.

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