Technically, the farm bill stalled in Congress is not part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, but it probably ought to be. The reason is that farmers in dairy states like New York may end up going off a cliff if nothing is done and a 1940s-vintage price-support system is restored.
As Steve Williams’ Dec. 8 column pointed out, that would force up the price of milk (and other dairy products, including the stunningly popular Greek yogurt that’s made in New York) overnight, as much as double, as price supports shot from about $10 per 12 gallons to roughly $38. While such an increase might seem good for farmers, sales would quickly plummet, so they’d actually get hurt pretty badly.
The holdup on the farm bill is over food stamps: House Republicans favor much deeper cuts ($12 billion worth over 10 years) than Senate Democrats. (Somebody ought to make them try to subsist on an allowance as stingy as the one food stamps provide.)
As if the proposed food stamp cuts weren’t bad enough, the failure of a “cliff” deal could freeze 6.9 million Americans out of their homes this winter. That’s the number of families who rely on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for help with their heating bills. While 90 percent of the $3.5 billion in expected grant money has already been allocated, the remaining 10 percent may be lost if a cliff deal doesn’t happen and the automatic 10 percent spending cuts kick in. With the average oil customer (predominately from the Northeast) expected to need $2,500 this winter to keep warm, the typical $900 grant is barely enough as it is. But with prices higher than last year and a colder winter expected, things could get dicey for families if their grant is cut 10 percent.
It’s one thing when the failure of a cliff deal jeopardizes something like an economic development tax credit, as a Nov. 29 Gazette story detailed; but entirely another when people who rely on the government to feed themselves and stay warm in winter are used as pawns. And that’s just what is happening as the “cliff” deadline approaches. All these issues need to be wrapped up in one comprehensive deal — and quickly.