Food Affordability Crisis Looms as Farm Bill Debate Heats Up: Millions at Risk of Hunger

Anti-hunger groups are growing increasingly concerned about worsening food affordability as the clock ticks down on the current farm bill. The $1.5 trillion spending package, which covers a wide range of agricultural and food assistance programs, has become a focal point of partisan debate, with climate and nutrition funding becoming key sticking points.

House and Senate leaders have released competing frameworks for the farm bill, highlighting the need for swift action to avoid a lapse in critical programs. While both plans include conservation, trade and commodity insurance investments, they diverge on issues related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and climate-smart agriculture funding.

The Thrifty Food Plan, which determines the maximum amount of benefits participants receive under SNAP, has become a major point of contention. Republicans are pushing to freeze costs by returning to a “cost-neutral” formula, which would prevent future adjustments based on inflation or other factors. Anti-hunger advocates argue that this move would translate into tens of billions of dollars in cuts over a decade, making it even more difficult for families to put food on the table.

“In times where food prices have gone up, conflicts around the world are making food insecurity increase globally, we need to come together and use the farm bill to really address this situation in a bipartisan way,” said Eric Mitchell, president of the Alliance to End Hunger, in a statement

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food has been a cause for concern, with prices rising 2.2% from March 2023 to March 2024. While the pace of inflation has slowed compared to recent years, food prices are still expected to increase across various categories in 2024. The food-at-home CPI, which tracks grocery store and supermarket purchases, is predicted to rise by 1.2%, while the food-away-from-home CPI, which covers restaurant purchases, is forecast to increase by 4.2%.

These projections, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the farm bill, have heightened fears about the affordability of food for millions of Americans. As lawmakers continue to negotiate, stakeholders are urging them to prioritize bipartisan solutions that address the pressing challenges facing the agricultural sector and ensure access to healthy, affordable food for all.

Climate advocates are also closely monitoring the farm bill discussions, as the legislation plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable agriculture practices and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Democrats are pushing for guardrails to ensure that additional conservation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act is used to help farmers transition to more climate-friendly practices and prepare for extreme weather events.

As the September 30 expiration date for the current farm bill looms, the pressure is mounting on lawmakers to find common ground and pass a bipartisan bill that meets the needs of farmers, consumers and the environment. Failure to do so could have far-reaching consequences for food affordability and security, as well as the long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector.

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