Farm Bill delay means food stamps funding, broadband Internet expansion hang in the balance

September 28, 2012

Caroline O'Donovan

House Speaker John Boehner announced last week that the House of Representatives will not vote on a new bill before the U.S. Farm Bill expires on Sunday.

Farmers are concerned about the uncertainty the delay presents, said Tim Collins of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. But the Farm Bill doesn’t just affect those in the agriculture business.

One cause of the delay in the House is debate over deepening cuts to the federal food-stamp program. Republicans in the House want to push the $4.5 billion in cuts by the Senate up to $16.5 billion, according to the LA Times.

“What I think people do is boil down cuts to the USDA as cuts to farmers, not fully understanding that most food stamp recipients live in cities,” said IIRA Dir. Christopher Merret.

“So, people living in the cities say, Oh we cut USDA that’s just affecting rural people. But, gosh darnit, it’s affecting people in New York City and Washington D.C., and Chicago. You name any metropolitan area and that's where a majority of food stamp SNAP program recipients live.”

Another program not usually associated with the Farm Bill is the expansion of broadband Internet access to those living in rural areas. In Illinois, Farm Bill funding combines with the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, which receives federal funding through the Small Business Administration, to work on improving Internet access in these areas.

“There are still communities using dial up for their online access,” Merret said. “It basically means that services that people in suburbs Naperville, Chicago, Peoria, Quad Cities, take for granted just doesn’t happen.”

Should the Farm Bill be passed by the House, federal funding for Rural Urban Services to provide better Internet connection would increase from $25 million to $50 million, according to the National Journal. This is money that Hancock County Regional School Superintendent John Meixner says is very much needed in certain counties in downstate and southern Illinois.

“Ten teachers are on trying to stream video into their classrooms. It will lock up the entire system and it just won’t be able to stream all these videos at once which they need,” Meixner said.

“There are some great little ten minute clip videos that people like to show the class,  good visual learning, but when it locks up the entire district’s Internet then it’s difficult to operate.”

The House vote on the Farm Bill has been rescheduled for November 7th.