Farm Bill should help the vulnerable, religious leaders urge

A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting in the Salinas Valley of Calif on June 16 2011 Credit USDA Photo Lance Cheung CNA US Catholic News 3 7 12 A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting in the Salinas Valley of Calif. on June 16, 2011. | USDA Photo/Lance Cheung.

Catholics leaders in the U.S. asked members of Congress to place the needs of the poor at the center of their considerations as they craft the nation's new Farm Bill.

"Congress and the Administration face serious challenges in how best to craft our nation's agriculture policies, especially in the broader context of the budget debates," said a Nov. 1 letter written by several bishops and heads of Catholic charitable organizations.

"These choices are more than economic and political: they are moral decisions with profound human consequences," they continued.

"Reductions should not come at the expense of vulnerable people in need."

The letter was signed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Also signing the letter were Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services; James F. Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference; and Sheila K. Gilbert, president of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The letter was sent to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Agriculture Committee; as well as Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Agriculture Committee.

The religious leaders discussed the Farm Bill, which is the main agricultural and food policy guide for the country. It provides funding for a number of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously called food stamps.

At the end of September, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 – which previously governed agricultural policy – expired. Members of Congress recently restarted discussions on a 2013 Farm Bill, after a previous attempt to pass legislation failed in June amid disputes over decreasing funding to SNAP.

The signatories urged the Farm Bill Conference Committee to consider the poor as it tries to create a bill that will pass Congress. They voiced "serious concerns about using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or other programs that serve poor and hungry people, to find savings in the Farm Bill."

They also referenced Pope Francis's statements on the "scandal" of hunger and malnutrition, asking them to listen to the Pope's request to "achieve a just and lasting solution" to hunger in the world.

The religious leaders urged Congress to focus on five areas as it continues crafting the bill: domestic hunger and nutrition, international food security and development, rural development, conservation and subsidies.

Above all, they called for "a Farm Bill that redirects help away from those who need it least to those who need it most."

"A just and fair Farm Bill will put poor and hungry people first, serve small and medium-sized family farms, promote sustainable stewardship of the land, and help vulnerable farmers and rural communities at home and abroad," they emphasized.

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