What impacts would the Republican Farm Bill, recently passed in the House without any support from Democrats, have?
A few weeks ago, the Republican leadership in the House passed a Farm Bill that did not include funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, that helps feed millions of Americans—primarily children, seniors and individuals with disabilities. Not a single Democrat voted for the bill. This split bill was only offered after Tea Party Republicans killed an earlier Farm Bill that contained drastic cuts to SNAP funding.
The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that determines how we feed ourselves as a nation. For the first time in almost five decades, one chamber of Congress has passed a Farm Bill that does nothing to address the hungry. That ignores half of the equation. If you take away people who need the food, then you take away the purpose of agriculture.
Fortunately, we still have an opportunity to fix this mistake. The Republican leadership has claimed they want to take up a separate SNAP-only bill in the future but we have not been given any idea what that would look like. Meanwhile, now that the House has passed a Farm Bill of sorts, Democrats are pushing for a conference committee to reconcile the House bill with the Senate version that includes funding for SNAP. Thankfully, President Barack Obama has promised to veto any Farm Bill that reaches his desk without adequate funding for SNAP.
So we have a real chance to save funding for SNAP. However, the clock is ticking. The current Farm Bill is set to expire in September. With the support of the President and the Senate, I remain hopeful that we can maintain the SNAP program and live up to our promise to feed the hungry.
What are your hopes for the student loan program?
When I was in the Peace Corps, I learned that if you have access to a safe place to sleep, quality healthcare and an education, then you have a chance to make it in life.
Congressional inaction has pushed one of those pillars further out of reach for millions of American students. Unable to reach a compromise, the student loan rates doubled on July 1 from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Even as market interest rates remain historically low, students and parents now find it harder to pay for a college education.
Last week, a proposal was put forward in the Senate that would provide temporarily relief and bring the rate down to 3.9 percent for current students. Starting in 2015, rates would then gradually increase with a cap of 8.25 percent.
That news may be comforting for current students but provides little solace for future students. Even a freshman on campus this fall would still have to finance half of their education at a high rate. Combined with the sky-rocketing cost of tuition, the increasing price of higher education will force millions of students to reconsider the value of a degree.
Any measure that only reduces rates for current students is a missed opportunity. Congress needs to come together and develop a real plan to make college more affordable, not one that increases the costs for students and families already struggling to pay for a higher education.