As the Church celebrates the feast of St. Isidore (patron saint of agriculture) on May 15, the time is right to consider Congress’ legislative activity on farming and food issues. My diocesan newspaper, The Compass, reported on April 23, “Catholic, other groups, voice misgivings over 2018 Farm Bill.” The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, of which Catholic Rural Life is a member, was even more outspoken in its opposition to the Committee’s bill “Top ten reasons to reject the House Farm Bill.” Approved by party lines in the House Agriculture Committee earlier this April, the bill is renewed every five years by Congress. All 435 House members will likely vote on the bill in the next month.
The title is somewhat limiting of the actual coverage of the bill. The Farm Bill addresses a wide range of subjects, including food and nutrition programs for indigent people in the U.S. and abroard, conservation of U.S. farmland, price supports for certain U.S. commodities, business development in rural communities, and economic benefits for smaller/family farms.
National Catholic leaders in domestic and foreign development policy, including Most Rev. Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, Chair, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services USA Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace; Sean Callahan, President, Catholic Relief Services; Sr. Donna Markham, O.P., PhD, President and CEO, Catholic Charities, USA; James Ennis, Executive Director, National Catholic Rural Life; and Ralph Middlecamp, President, National Council of the, U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, signed the Joint Letter on the 2018 Farm Bill. The Church is particularly opposed to federal measures that strip state authorities of their independence to design local eligibility regulations for individuals receiving food aid. The leaders’ letter concludes:
This is a crucial time for our nation to put poor and hungry people first, support small and moderate-sized family farms, promote sustainable stewardship of the land, and help vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries. We look forward to working with you as you amend the 2018 Farm Bill.
Increased food deprivation was highlighted in a memo from Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The state Department of Health Services estimated in 2017 that if categories for food deprived Wisconsinites of the Committee’s passed Farm Bill were applied, about 11 percent of Wisconsin food stamp recipients, or roughly 76,000 people, would lose eligibility for the program. About 23,000 of those would be children.
Concerned Christians may follow the progress on the Farm Bill through the Catholic Rural Life blog. Take a moment to express your reactions to the proposed law to your House Representative before he or she votes on it.
Printed in part in The Compass: Official Newspaper for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., May 11, 2018