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Proponents of food stamps holding Farm Bill hostage

In a commentary March 5 at duluthnewstribune.com, the AgWeek Editorial Board described the debate over food stamps — more accurately the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — as one of “government against free enterprise.” This was because grocery stores would see a hit to their business if SNAP was ended, the piece argued.

The problem, of course, is that the taxpayer dollars that fund SNAP undermine the free market itself. The government literally is giving money to people that only can be spent at grocery stores. The money the grocery stores receive from this is not the result of the free market; it’s government subsidy. So, yes, there would be a free-market correction if the subsidy was removed, and that may hurt some grocery stores.

But that is only because grocery stores receive the subsidy indirectly through SNAP.

Out of nowhere the commentary asked, “Would small businesses have to cut jobs while government jobs are added to fulfill the demands of the Harvest Box program?” There was no attempt to answer this. Considering the Trump administration’s track record, albeit a short one, my guess would be no. All indications are this would mean a reduction in bureaucracy and cost. But the question seemed to be asked simply to plant the seed in the reader’s mind.

This false “government vs. freedom” narrative continued with AgWeek stating how “ironic” it is that “people who normally favor family and individual choice” would instead support a program that preselects U.S.-grown food based on nutritional value. This also ignored that this is a taxpayer-funded program. Is it ironic that for the taxpayer request, taxpayers get some say in how their $70 billion are spent?

The narrative also ignored that we live in a country with an obesity epidemic. Perhaps people, when given the choice of everything in the grocery store, aren’t always choosing responsibly. Would it be ironic if giving people free healthy food resulted in them being healthier?

The commentary expressed “concern” that SNAP will be removed from the Farm Bill. “Farm-state politicians have believed for decades that including SNAP in the Farm Bill encourages urban legislators to support federal funding for programs that farmers want,” AgWeek’s editorial board wrote. If the only way to get the Farm Bill passed is bribing “urban legislators” with $70 billion in taxpayer money, then perhaps there are major problems with the Farm Bill — and separating SNAP from the Farm Bill would allow those issues to come to light and be debated. That sounds like a good thing.

There’s a big problem with this if you’re an “urban legislator,” of course. What the commentary didn’t tell us is that the Farm Bill, which costs $956 billion over 10 years, would more aptly be named the Food Stamp Bill. Of that $956 billion, $756 billion will go toward food stamps and government nutrition programs. That’s nearly 80 percent. In the 1970s, about one in 50 Americans was on food stamps. Today, it’s about one in seven.

It does not appear that farm-state politicians need “urban legislators” to pass the Farm Bill. Instead, it appears food-stamp proponents are holding the Farm Bill hostage.

If getting $2 for farmers means we have to pay $8 to SNAP, I think we need to check our math. Separating the two issues results in proper debate on the merits of each program. That might mean aspects of each no longer make sense — or could be done more efficiently. We won’t know unless we have the discussions.

Perhaps it’s time we put down the Pop Tarts, plugged our noses, and ate our vegetables. They’re better for us anyway. Just ask a farmer.

Robb Enslin of Duluth is a former lawyer and professional writer working in a regulatory field for a global manufacturer.

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