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Policy Focus: Stalemate Continues in Congress

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July 2013


Immigration Reform

On June 27, the Senate approved the most far-reaching reforms to U.S. immigration policy in 50 years. The Senate’s immigration reform bill passed 68-32. Bipartisan support gave the proposal momentum, even as it faces a more daunting challenge in the House. The bill includes most of the major components of an immigration overhaul: an earned legalization process for 11 million unauthorized immigrants, increased enforcement both at the border and inside the United States, and a revamped guest worker program.

The Senate bill does not engage the root causes of undocumented immigration, such as poverty in countries of origin. However, it will reduce hunger and poverty of immigrants in the United States.

Now, immigration reform has moved to the House of Representatives. You can influence the legislation by telling your representative to support immigration reform that

  1. addresses the root causes of undocumented immigration, such as extreme poverty in countries of origin and
  2. does not discourage or prohibit legal immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members from receiving needed assistance through federal programs such as WIC, SNAP, and EITC.

As the House takes up this issue, it needs to know that a faithful constituency is paying attention. Call your U.S. representative at 800-826-3688, or email him or her, today.

Farm Bill

The farm bill remains a main focus of our efforts to ensure a place at the table for all people. During this time of slow economic recovery, more than 47 million of individuals across the United States rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which is funded through the farm bill.

Congress votes on the farm bill roughly every five years, codifying budgets and directives for a variety of food programs and policies. However, last year, when the farm bill came up for renewal, the House and Senate could not agree and did not pass a new bill. Instead, the previous farm bill was renewed for an extra year.

The current farm bill deadline is this September. As of press time, the Senate has passed a bipartisan farm bill that includes $4 billion in cuts to SNAP and some international food aid improvements.

Meanwhile, the House failed to pass a bill that included over $20 billion in cuts to SNAP and $2.5 billion in cuts to international food aid. It is unclear how the farm bill process will move forward. Congress could take a number of routes, from having the House rewrite its bill, to considering the Senate bill on the House floor, to extending the current law.

Although the House bill failed, several amendments that passed during floor considerations are cause for concern. The Southerland Amendment would impose harsh work requirements on all SNAP recipients and the Reed Amendment would ban ex-offenders from receiving SNAP. In addition, some influential lawmakers have recently floated the idea of splitting the farm bill and administering SNAP separately. This appears to be an effort to reduce funding for SNAP—which Bread opposes.

Sequestration

Sequestration, the automatic cuts that began to hit federal programs on March 1, 2013, continues. Agencies and programs are doing what they can to maintain services, but that will become increasingly difficult. In 2013 alone, sequestration will mean 4 million fewer meals served to poor seniors through programs like Meals on Wheels. It will push 70,000 children out of Head Start. And 2 million people around the world will lose some or all access to lifesaving food aid. These numbers are just for this year. Sequestration's harmful effects will continue to grow in the coming years unless Congress acts.

The White House and a few members of Congress have discussed ways to reach a budget deal before the end of the fiscal year in October or when the United States reaches the debt ceiling this fall. Congress will have to pass some sort of budget or continuing resolution by Oct. 1 to prevent a government shutdown, and it will have to raise the debt ceiling in October or November to prevent the nation from defaulting on its obligations. Signs point to these two deadlines being the best opportunity for legislation to replace sequestration.

However, a grand deal remains unlikely at this time. Members of Congress have not heard enough outrage to pressure them into negotiate a replacement plan.

Appropriations

The Senate is moving through the appropriations process, setting funding levels for federal programs for the 2014 fiscal year. These numbers align with spending caps established in the Budget Control Act of 2011 and assume Congress will replace the sequestration cuts with an alternative plan.

In late June, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its agriculture appropriations bill, with healthy funding levels for programs that help hungry people:

  • $7 billion for the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program—$215 million above FY 2013
  • $1.46 billion for international food aid—$33 million above FY 2013
  • $185 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program—$1 million above FY 2013

The bill also includes modest changes to international food aid. It eliminates approximately 17 percent of monetization—sale of commodities purchased in and shipped from the United States. This change would help support local farmers and markets. And the bill includes an $18 million increase in emergency funds.

The House is operating under the assumption that sequestration will remain in place, but it shifts all sequestration cuts scheduled to hit defense programs onto the nondefense programs—leaving funding for nondefense programs about $47 billion lower than what is currently scheduled in law, even after sequestration is accounted for.

Because the Senate and House bills are so different, it’s hard to see how legislation will move forward. As of press time, the House has not drafted or passed its agricultural appropriations bill.


Farm bill photo: Alex Morris feeds her son, André, in their Bend, Ore., home. Alex depends on SNAP, WIC and other programs to care for André, who suffers from a serious medical condition that affects his hormonal system. Photo by Brad Horn for Bread for the World

Sequestration photo: More than 5 million older Americans struggle to put food on the table according to recent Bread for the World analysis. Sequestration will mean 4 million fewer meals delivered to seniors in 2013. Photo © Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels

Appropriations photo: Displaced Pakistanis pull a cartload of rations distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) at a tent camp in Naseerabad, Balochistan Province, where thousands have settled following massive floods. UN Photo/WFP/Amjad Jamal

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