Social Workers Score Farm Bill Victory Thanks to Rep. Barbara Lee

LeBron James and the Miami Heat were not the only team to score a significant victory last week when the

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Heat bested the San Antonio Spurs to win the NBA championship.  Last week social workers also scored a decisive victory.  Though diminutive in height compared to King James, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA13), chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, stood tall among her peers in Congress last week leading the fight against $20 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the farm bill offered by House Republicans.  SNAP provides food stamps to about 47 million low-income Americans.

Any parallels between the two may be a stretch, but both James and Lee have taken much heat (no pun intended) for being who they are.  James who wants to go down in history as the best player to have ever played the game of basketball, caught much flack for his widely castigated “The Decision” episode when he had the temerity to predict he and the Heat would win multiple championships.  Three straight appearances in the NBA Finals and two championship rings is a pretty good start.  Lee, on the other hand, has been in the crosshairs of her critics since being the lone member of the House to vote against giving war authority to President George Bush before the Iraq War.  Both were willing to go out on a limb.  So they should get their props when they win.

In a statement released by her office, the congresswoman from Oakland said: “The Republicans’ proposed $20 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were unconscionable and short sighted, and beating the Farm Bill today is an incredible victory for the nation’s poor and vulnerable. The President’s veto threat went a long way in garnering support for the defeat of this bill.”

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the proposed cuts to food stamps would eliminate benefits for nearly 2 million families, mostly households with children and senior citizens.  Reducing SNAP benefits would be particularly devastating because the increase in benefits provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) will end in November, reducing food stamps about $25 monthly for a family of four.  Approximately 210,000 low-income children could lose free school meals if their families lose their SNAP benefits.

Led by Lee, 26 members of the House took the challenge of eating on a $4.50 a day food budget for the week which is the average SNAP benefit for one person.  In addition she took her fight to the floor of the House floor of the House and to the airways appearing on numerous news programs.  Lee is the ideal spokesperson because as a young mother she relied on food stamps to feed her children.  She wrote on her blog: “When I was a young, single mother, I was on public assistance. It was a bridge over troubled water, and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I spent hours debating what to buy and what to skip, all the while keeping my sons in my mind. I could go without breakfast; my sons couldn’t.”

The defeat of H.R. 1947, the Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, was a blow to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH8) who was blind-sided once again by members of his party after bringing the $940 billion bill to the floor for a vote.   The bill went down in defeat by a margin of 195-234 votes, with 62 Republicans joining the majority of Democrats voting against the bill.  Boehner expected more than the 24 Democrats who eventually voted for the bill to back the legislation.  However a significant number of Democrats abandoned the legislation after a last-minute amendment by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL2) was added that would require applicants for food stamps to be either working or in a work-related program.

Needless to say, the farm lobby was up in arms over this latest debacle.  They worked ferociously to get a plan through the House only to see their efforts go up in smoke with no resolution in sight.  Hopefully, one lesson that might come from all of this, is that policymakers will begin to understand that feeding the hungry should not be entangled with farm policies.  There is much reform needed in our farm policies but these should be addressed separately from the need for Americans to put sufficient food on their tables.  Ask Paul Ryan.  He just said it on Morning Joe.


Twitter: @CharlesELewisJr.

Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. He has served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and was the staff coordinator for the Congressional Social Work Caucus. He was a full-time faculty member at Howard University School of Social Work prior to joining Rep. Towns’ staff and now is an adjunct associate professor. As staff coordinator for the Social Work Caucus, Dr. Lewis helped to plan and to coordinate numerous briefings and events on the Hill and in the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York.

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  1. wiseoldsnail June 25, 2013

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