In the passage of the current Farm Bill, Congress literally just took $9 billion in food stamps from hungry and poor families and gave it out to big agribusiness giants in the form of more corporate welfare. But with a stroke of his pen, President Obama could send the bill back to Congress and refuse to sign it until Congress properly funds the food stamp program, making a larger populist argument about the need for stronger safety nets in the new gilded age.
The main problem with the Farm Bill is in the politically-targeted class warfare surrounding how $9 billion in food stamps was cut. Congressman Alan Grayson's latest email explains his opposition to the current bill because of how it changes the way people automatically qualify for food stamp benefits. Under the former structure, people already benefiting from the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be more likely to qualify for food stamp benefits as well, since those families are able to take a $644 full standard utility allowance (FSUA) income deduction. In their new Farm Bill, the House GOP cut food stamps by changing the FSUA qualifications so LIHEAP recipients would have a harder time qualifying for food stamp assistance.
As Congressman Grayson pointed out, poor Republican families in Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee would still be able to receive food stamps, but poor Democrat-leaning families in colder states like Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts would have to go through more hoops to qualify for food stamps. Leaving aside the false argument that a nation as rich as ours doesn't have the money to make sure poor people have access to food, specifically targeting the qualification criteria of food stamp applicants based on whether or not they receive heating assistance is overwhelmingly cruel, not to mention politically motivated.
Inequality is already a pressing issue, and the death of America's middle class is well-documented. The New York Times recently published an article called "The Middle Class is Steadily Eroding, Just Ask the Business World," reporting on the crash and burn of mid-level businesses and restaurants that don't cater to either the discount shopper/diner or the high-level boutique shopper/diner. And according to the Wall Street Journal, roughly 95 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2012 went to the top one percent. If anything, Americans are in far more need of social safety nets like food stamps.
One of the key messages of President Obama's latest State of the Union address was the need to deal with the growing gap between ordinary people and the super-rich. He even issued an executive order mandating that federal contractors pay their employees $10.10 an hour, and called on more businesses to pay their employees a living wage. Obama acknowledged that his office came with limited powers, and that he would have to work with the current Congress to get things done. But the office of the President is also a reminder of the importance of our system of checks and balances.
The Farm Bill passed the Senate on a vote of 68-32, which could still result in the overriding of a presidential veto, but the House vote of 251-166 means that if Obama were to veto the Farm Bill, there wouldn't be enough votes for the two-thirds majority necessary to override his veto. Congress would then have to come together to re-write a more equitable bill.
Not everything in the Farm Bill is bad -- this is the first comprehensive Farm Bill since 2008, and there are undoubtedly many needs that will be met with a proper Farm Bill. The current version awaiting the President's signature invests $1.2 billion over the next five years in programs to help beginning farmers, local food, organic agriculture, rural development and specialty crops. All of these programs got the short end of the stick last year. But with a veto, the President could issue a statement acknowledging both the good and the bad of the current bill, praising language to fund local food programs, while calling for food stamps to be properly funded before the Farm Bill is satisfactory.
President Obama is due to sign the Farm Bill this Friday in Michigan. But he could make waves by vetoing the bill instead, and refusing to sign it until the poorest Americans get the help they need, deserve, and pay for.
This article originally appeared on Reader Supported News.