The survey of more than 1,000 registered voters commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future comes at a time when House and Senate legislators are struggling to find middle ground for 2018 Farm Bill, which will set the course for food and agriculture policy for at least the next four years.
“There are two main disagreements between the House and the Senate in their Farm Bills … and our poll shows a strong majority of voters come down on the side of the Senate’s [proposed] Farm Bill,” Bob Martin, director of the Food Systems Policy Program at the Center for a Livable Future, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Most Americans support SNAP
He explained that the first major point of contention is the extent to which the government should help those in need pay for food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The House wants to cut back funding, while the Senate wants to maintain it.
According to the survey, nearly three-quarters of voters believe the government is currently doing a poor or “just fair” job of ensuring people with low or modest incomes have enough money for basic food necessities, and 68% say the government is doing a poor or just fair job of ensuring people in all neighborhoods have access to healthy food.
With this context, 61% of survey respondents oppose reducing funds for SNAP, which can help fill these gaps.
However, the survey revealed that respondents are willing to place some restrictions on SNAP benefits. For example, 67% support requiring SNAP beneficiaries to meet minimum work requirements to receive their benefits and 49% favor placing a cap on SNAP benefits for households of six or more people.
Conservation programs in the crosshairs
The other major point of difference between the House and Senate Farm Bills centers on support for the conservation stewardship program and the level of government support for farmers.
Martin explained the House’s proposal also would eliminate the conservation stewardship program by folding it into the Environmental Quality Improvement Program, while the Senate version would maintain the current structure.
According to the survey, 67% of the people polled believe the government has a responsibility to promote producing food in a sustainable way, and 58% want to continue existing conservation programs that help farmers maintain environmental quality of their land, Martin said.
“This shows that the House Farm bill is really out of sync with where the country is,” he added.
In addition, Martin noted, the survey also found the government should do more to support farmers. Specifically, 85% supported increasing opportunities for socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and 75% believe the government should be supporting ag producers, including for small and medium size farmers.
The vast majority, 82%, of respondents also want the government to better support farmers by improving crop insurance for fruit, vegetables, nuts and organic crops. But, just as they put restrictions on the SNAP benefits, 84% of respondents also want to require farmers seeking crop insurance assistance to implement practices that will reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. They also want to limit the total subsidies a farmer or agribusiness can receive from crop insurance programs to pay for insurance premiums to $50,000 a year.
Time to take action
Stakeholders and voters still have time to weigh in on the differences between the bills and these issues, Martin noted.
He explained that the Senate has yet to name who will work with members of the House to find common ground on the Farm Bill, which means stakeholders still have time to call to their senators and representatives to voice their preferences.