By Claire Benjamin, Managing Director of Food Policy Action and Alex Formuzis, Vice President of Environmental Working Group and Advisor to Food Policy Action Someone we know – let’s call him Al – got a few grades during his otherwise successful college career that weren’t much to write home about. In fact, if memory serves, Al…
By Claire Benjamin, Managing Director of Food Policy Action and Alex Formuzis, Vice President of Environmental Working Group and Advisor to Food Policy Action
Someone we know – let’s call him Al – got a few grades during his otherwise successful college career that weren’t much to write home about. In fact, if memory serves, Al didn’t.
Right now, there’s a whole group of people who – though their school days, like Al’s, are far behind them – have just gotten the kind of miserable report cards usually earned by students who spend their days tapping kegs instead of cracking books.
Twenty-eight members of the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate got a grade of zero out of 100 from the watchdog group Food Policy Action because they voted against farm bill amendments to improve how our food is grown, help millions of hungry Americans feed themselves, reform out-of-control farm subsidies and protect the environment from farming practices that foul air, land and water – and that’s just for starters.
Meanwhile, the 28 in the House joined 147 of their colleagues in voting for an amendment that would literally take food from the mouths of babes. That measure would cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, which roughly 50 million Americans, 45 percent of them children, depend on.
Their war against the nation’s hungry marched on in the House as the Zeros supported four other amendments that would further restrict struggling families’ access to healthy food.
They also opposed an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, to restore $20 billion of the $40 billion in cuts to SNAP. It went down to defeat with the help of the Zeros, who all voted against it, of course.
Over in the upper chamber, the 10 Senate Zeros, along with 30 of their colleagues, voted to cut $13 billon from the same vital nutrition program.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the constituents of the Senate Zeros include 150,200 of the roughly 900,000 veterans who live in households that rely on SNAP. Many of those former soldiers likely served several tours in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.
So it’s worth remembering that a number of the 40 Republicans who voted for the SNAP cuts were in the Senate back in 2002 and voted to send these veterans to war. Voting to deny them and their families relatively meager but much-needed food assistance is one way to thank them for their service, I suppose.
The Zeros also voted against measures to allow more farmers to participate in important conservation programs that help reduce pesticide and fertilizer run-off into drinking water sources, and against amendments to cap farm subsidy payments that disproportionately go to well-off mega farms – not small family farmers.
Several House members who voted against limiting taxpayer-funded farm subsidies are themselves recipients of government farm subsidy checks, including Rep. Marlin Stuzman (R-Ind), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican from Frog Jump, Tennessee. Rep. Fincher, who has reaped more than $3 million in subsidies since 1999, actually invoked scripture while defending his desire to cut billions from SNAP during a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year, using a misleading, out-of-context quote from the Book of Thessalonians: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, estimates that at least 30 percent of households that receive food assistance also draw income from a job. In the Congressional district Fincher represents, there are more than 50,000 households receiving SNAP benefits, and nearly half have at least one person working.
The Zeros in both chambers also voted against farm bill amendments that would have reined in taxpayer-funded crop insurance subsidies for wealthy farmers. USDA doesn’t make public the names of individuals who receive crop insurance subsidies as it does for traditional farm subsidies, so one can only wonder if Reps. Fincher, Stuzman and Hartzler have their hands in that federal cash register, too.
The Senate members of this congressional clique also voted against an amendment to the farm bill that would require labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients, thereby denying their constituents the right to know what’s in their food – even though all national surveys show near-unanimous support among the public for labeling of GE foods.
While our friend Al received a couple of grades he wished he hadn’t, his career as a student only had consequences for himself. The lives of his family, friends and fellow students were not affected in the least by his academic lapses. That’s not the case with members of Congress, however. The votes they cast and bills they pass have a profound bearing on the lives of millions of people, including the one-sixth of the population who regularly find themselves hungry.
That’s food for thought while we wait for Food Policy Action’s scorecard for thesecond session of the 113th Congress, due out in late 2014.
Here are the Zeros of the first session of the 113th Congress:
From the Senate:
Sen. John Thune (Republican from South Dakota)
Sen. Richard Shelby (Republican from Alabama – voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (Minority Leader and Republican from Kentucky – voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)
Sen. Dean Heller (Republican from Nevada)
Sen. Mike Crapo (Republican from Idaho – voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)
Sen. James Inhofe (Republican from Oklahoma – voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)
Sen. James Risch (Republican from Idaho)
Sen. Jeff Flake (Republican from Arizona)
Sen. Mike Enzi (Republican from Wyoming – voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)
Sen. John Barrasso (Republican from Wyoming)
From the House:
Rep. Martha Roby (Republican from Alabama)
Rep. Scott DesJarlias (Republican from Tennessee)
Rep. John Fleming (Republican from Louisiana)
Rep. Stephen Fincher (Republican from Tennessee)
Rep. Ann Wagner (Republican from Missouri)
Rep. Kay Granger (Republican from Texas)
Rep. Robert Aderholt (Republican from Alabama)
Rep. Ted Poe (Republican from Texas)
Rep. Roger Williams (Republican from Texas)
Rep. Tom Cotton (Republican from Arkansas)
Rep. Mac Thornberry (Republican from Texas)
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (Republican from Indiana)
Rep. John Boehner (Speaker of the House and a Republican from Ohio)
Rep. John Campbell III (Republican from California)
Rep. Cory Gardner (Republican from Colorado)
Rep. Bob Latta (Republican from Ohio)
Rep. Larry Bucshon (Republican from Indiana)
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Republican from Kansas)
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (Republican from Missouri)
Rep. Billy Long (Republican from Missouri)
Rep. Jason Smith (Republican from Missouri)
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (Republican from Missouri)
Rep. Randy Neugbauer (Republican from Texas)
Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Republican from Mississippi)
Rep. Bill Johnson (Republican from Ohio)
Rep. Adrian Smith (Republican from Nebraska)
Rep. Bill Shuster (Republican from Pennsylvania)
Rep. Blake Farenthold (Republican from Texas)
By Claire Benjamin Food Policy Action was created last year to promote sensible food policies through education and the publication of its annual scorecard, which tracks how legislators vote on issues that affect all of us – ranging from the safety of our food to the treatment of farm animals. This week, FPA released its…
By Claire Benjamin
Food Policy Action was created last year to promote sensible food policies through education and the publication of its annual scorecard, which tracks how legislators vote on issues that affect all of us – ranging from the safety of our food to the treatment of farm animals.
This week, FPA released its 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard to help voters identify which lawmakers are working for better food policies. It turns out there are 87 good food champions in the 113th Congress – 14 senators and 73 representatives.
But, votes don’t always tell the whole story. Several lawmakers with less than perfect scores are among the most committed champions for reducing hunger, reforming wasteful farm subsidies, and supporting local farmers.
For example, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who received a score of 67 percent, has tirelessly fought to make food safer and better for us – introducing legislation to increase testing of ground beef and to improve communication with consumers during recalls. She has also championed better nutrition by leading efforts to ban the use of trans fat and to eliminate the sale of junk foods in schools. Gillibrand may be best known for her efforts to restore cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by offering an amendment to instead cut subsidies for insurance companies.
Another example is Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has continued to fight for farm subsidy reform since moving from the House to the Senate. As a Senator, Flake has introduced bills and amendments to help family farmers by gradually reducing crop insurance subsidies and by fighting to end “direct” subsidy payments tied to past farm production.
And if it weren’t for the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the farm bill being finalized by the House and Senate would be far worse. Stabenow received a score of 50 percent by FPA, but she has defended food assistance programs, fought hard to require good stewardship as a condition of receiving crop insurance subsidies, and worked towards making the “farm” bill a “food” bill by including new resources for local food. But, as the lawmaker responsible for writing this key legislation in the Senate, Stabenow had little choice but to defend the bipartisan bill, and vote against amendments offered by her colleagues.
These are just a few examples of great food policy leaders in Congress who must be measured by more than their voting records alone.
Its also important to mention some discrepancies between legislators voting records and co-sponsored bills. For example many legislators who voted against a Senate amendment to that would have permitted states to require labeling of genetically engineered foods are actually co-sponsors of legislation to make the absence of such a label illegal in every state. Why? Because some Senators would like to give all consumers the right to know what’s in their food — not just consumers in states that pass their own bills. The other part of the answer has to do with Congress not taking enough votes on important food policy, which we will explore more in the coming months, stay tuned.
Washington, D.C. – Food Policy Action, a national nonprofit organization, today announced that 87 members of Congress – 73 House members and 14 senators — have received perfect scores on its 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard. “Few things have as much of an impact on our lives as food,” said Tom Colicchio, owner of Craft Restaurants…
Washington, D.C. – Food Policy Action, a national nonprofit organization, today announced that 87 members of Congress – 73 House members and 14 senators — have received perfect scores on its 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard.
“Few things have as much of an impact on our lives as food,” said Tom Colicchio, owner of Craft Restaurants and FPA board member. “That’s especially true for the families who don’t have enough to eat. Until now, voters had no simple way to find out whether their lawmakers voted to cut or protect food assistance for the neediest Americans. Thanks to the FPA scorecard, now they know.”
Senators were graded on six votes and House members on 13 votes related to hunger, food aid, food labels and farm subsidies.
Click here to see full list of Good Food Champions in the Senate.
Click here to see full list of Good Food Champions in the House.
Launched last year, FPA is the first national organization to publish an annual scorecard that grades lawmakers on congressional food policy votes. An advisory council of food policy experts picks which votes are relevant and should be scored. The FPA Board of Directors approves those choices.
“Over the course of the last two years, numerous votes have been taken to alter domestic and international food assistance programs, many with profound consequences for hungry people,” said Ray Offenheiser, Oxfam President and FPA board member. “All legislators have had to choose whether they will stand up for the people who are struggling to get enough to eat or if they will instead side with special interests. These officials should be on notice that their constituents will use this scorecard to measure their performance.”
“This scorecard, the second FPA has issued, provides compelling evidence that food policy need not be a partisan issue,” said Ken Cook, FPA board chair and EWG president. “Many Republicans – including Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins – scored better than their Democratic colleagues. There is no question but that food has become more political in 2013. Hardly a day goes by when policymakers aren’t debating whether to cut SNAP, the food stamp program, reform farm subsidies, roll back food safety standards, reduce the use of antibiotics, pay food workers a living wage or set standards for the humane treatment of farm animals.”
Colicchio, Offenheiser and Cook are joined on FPA board by Robin Schepper, former executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative; Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of Stonyfield Farm; Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer and president of the Humane Society of the United States; Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!; Mia Dell, chief lobbyist for United Food and Commercial Workers; Navina Khanna, co-founder of Live Real; and John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.
For Immediate Release Contact: Sara Sciammacco, email@example.com Seasoned Food and Agriculture Policy Expert to Manage FPA Washington, D.C. — Claire Benjamin, a seasoned Washington expert on food and agriculture policy, has been named managing director of Food Policy Action, the national organization’s board announced today. Benjamin will be responsible for managing FPA’s day-to-day operations, updating and providing…
For Immediate Release
Contact: Sara Sciammacco, firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C. — Claire Benjamin, a seasoned Washington expert on food and agriculture policy, has been named managing director of Food Policy Action, the national organization’s board announced today.
Benjamin will be responsible for managing FPA’s day-to-day operations, updating and providing analysis for its National Food Policy Scorecard, overseeing the group’s advocacy and fundraising efforts and handling social media outreach.
“We’re thrilled that Claire will be leading our team as we continue our work to reform our broken food and farm system,” said FPA board chair Ken Cook. “Claire has been a champion for a wide range of policies that support family farmers and sustainable farming. She is highly regarded by all of her peers and very well equipped to advise and guide us through the political thickets of congressional food and farm policy.”
Prior to joining FPA, Benjamin spent nine years working on federal food and agriculture policy on Capitol Hill. Most recently, she served as legislative director and senior advisor for Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and was instrumental in drafting the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which aims to increase access to healthy food and promote local agriculture.
“Claire has been a fantastic partner over the last five years in our work to make common sense reforms to federal agriculture policy,” said Rep. Pingree “She is a tireless and impassioned advocate for improving our food system so it works better for everyone. I’m excited to see her go to such an important organization as Food Policy Action, where her commitment and savvy can continue to push the movement forward.”
A native Vermonter, Benjamin also served on the staff of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). She is a graduate of the University of Vermont in Burlington.
Launched last year, FPA was created to highlight the importance of policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, protect public health and the environment, reduce food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems and treat farm animals humanely.
FPA promotes these policies through education and the publication of its annual scorecard. On Tuesday, Dec. 10, FPA board members will release the 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard at a press conference at Graffiato restaurant in Washington, D.C. The scorecard will rate lawmakers of the 113th Congress on food and farm votes taken in the first session.
“Claire’s work will be critical in increasing transparency in the legislative process and holding all of our elected leaders accountable for their food and farm votes,” said Cook. “The public should know when their lawmakers cast votes that hurt farmers, slash funding for hungry families or weaken food safety laws.”