Final Budget Agreement Cuts Food Aid, Water Quality and Stewardship Programs

The new agreement recently passed to avoid a government shutdown cut programs that promote land stewardship, help poor mothers buy food, and assist in the delivery of clean water around the country.

The US Department of Agriculture suffered from cuts of $2.6 billion for this fiscal year, ending September 30. As half of the fiscal year is already over "it becomes twice as hard to make cuts" according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Congressional leaders disingenuously focused on nonsecurity discretionary spending for cuts, as opposed to tackling tax breaks, capping skyrocketing defense spending, or having a serious conversation about Medicare and Social Security. The new cuts will do little to reduce the deficit, or tame national debt. It will lead to more children going to bed hungry and malnourished.

The deal included a $504 million cut in the Women, Infants and Children, or "WIC" program that provides food aid to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and children. The entire program is normally funded at $7.2 billion and covers 9.3 million people.

Over 4,000 people joined together in a fast to protest the proposed cuts to WIC, but to no avail.

The WIC program is a joint federal-state program, managed and paid for by the USDA and state governments. As states are becoming increasingly squeezed financially, they too are proposing to cut WIC. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is looking to slash his state's program even further.

The cuts to WIC highlight the reality that on Capitol Hill, women, children and the poor are being thrown under the bus, while the super rich grow richer. One in four children in the US already go to bed hungry some nights, and 50 million Americans suffered from food insecurity in the past year. Corporate profits grew at the highest rate in 2010 since the 1950s, and the richest 1% of Americans account for 24% of the nation's income.

The WIC program not only helps families access food, it helps them with nutrition and meal planning. With malnourishment a bigger threat to the health of children in the US than undernourishment, the focus on nutrition in the program is key. Malnourished children, of which there are many in the States, grow up with worse health and stunted educational achievements-- poor nutrition in the first two years of a child's life leads to irreversible harm.

In addition to chiseling away at nutritional support for families, the agreement cut $1.6 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, a 16% decrease. The majority of these cuts are aimed at the Clean and Safe Drinking Water Revolving Funds (SRDFs), used to improve the quality of the nation's waterways.

Stewardship spending was axed at as well. The Wetlands Preserve Program, which pays landowners to preserve wetlands was cut by $119 million. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which prevents runoffs from field and feedlots was cut by $80 million and the first "green" payment program, the Conservation Stewardship Program was cut by $39 million.

This agreement only funds the government for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, and serves as a warning of the future fight over raising the debt ceiling.

As it becomes increasingly apparent that Tea Party Republicans are controlling the narrative of the fight, those interested in clean water, healthy families, and safe food systems must start paying attention now. With the Obama administration consistently failing to take charge, the vacuum needs to be filled by groups and individuals committed to setting a progressive and pragmatic tone on the next budget fight.

It is high time sustainable food advocates moved from simply promoting awareness to dynamic and active advocacy.

Photo Credit: Johan Ohrling