Farm bill uncertainty, looming shutdown may affect Permian Basin hunger

Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 6:32 PM CDT
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - The farm bill is set to expire on Sept. 30 with no definite renewal in sight, which is cause for concern for ranchers, farmers and nonprofits tackling hunger.

This bill isn’t just about agriculture.

In fact, it’s the primary federal legislation affecting benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and emergency food assistance, plus major safety net programs for farmers.

Nonprofits like the West Texas Food Bank are at the mercy of a tense political landscape that has complicated legislation across the nation.

Local officials say the next four days are up in the air. Legislators don’t expect to pass a new farm bill soon, instead they need to figure out how to continue funding until a final decision is made.

However, the looming government shutdown is adding another layer of uncertainty.

“For us to have a farm bill that’s not going to happen at the end of this month is concerning, to be honest,” said CEO Libby Campbell. “We are assuming a government shutdown is coming, you know, looming next week, which will delay the process and progress of us coming to a resolution on a farm bill.”

Campbell says that makes it tough to budget and predict future needs.

The bill not passing isn’t the only thing the food bank is preparing for. It’s already reaching out to communities with federal employees who may soon need their assistance.

“Our numbers always increase during federal shutdowns and a lot of that is just due to uncertainty about when they’re going to get paid again,” Campbell said.

As Republicans and Democrats battle over spending, the farm bill faces similar issues, according to Rep. August Pfluger. He says Republicans want to fund snap and emergency assistance, but with lower budgets.

“All the programs that are currently funded, we’re going to have to come together as Congress to determine what levels we’re going to fund those programs that are already in place that may need reauthorization,” Pfluger said.

There’s uncertainty around the near $550,000 per year the bank receives from the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Also, there’s concern around how nutrition programs will be able to operate to help West Texans in need.

“We really have the message of not to panic, that it’s going to be OK. SNAP benefits usually continue to be funded, even during a government shutdown.”

However, the shutdown could halt conversations about how to continue funding until a farm bill is decided on.

Pfluger says the farm bill will likely finalize later this year or early next year.

While she has hope, Campbell says it’s like shaking a magic eight ball as farmers and nonprofits wait to see what happens.