Yes, Farmers Need Help. But So Do Hungry Families | Opinion

Farmers need help. The market demand that supports prices for the things they raise and grow has been gutted by this administration's trade war. And as rural America shoulders the vast majority of the impact of retaliation by formerly reliable trading partners abroad, it's only right that our farmers are compensated.

However, if the administration can understand farmers are hurting, there should be no question about its empathy for the needs of our nation's hungry. Instead, we see billions flow from the Treasury to affected farmers, while we watch in horror as the administration slashes critical food assistance for low-income people under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

This past week, the Agriculture Department finalized a rule to cut SNAP for as many as a million people each month. Early next year, the Department of Agriculture will likely finalize two more rules that will cut millions more from food assistance programs, including working families with children, veterans, seniors and persons with disabilities.

Where is the commitment to assist these Americans? The president talks about the need to protect American farmers, and nobody disputes that, least of all me. It has been a great honor to serve on the House Agriculture Committee since I came to Congress in 2008. But are poor people any less worthy of that same protection because of their economic circumstances? Why does the administration scramble to rush money out the door to ailing farmers, while at the same time exploring ever-more-creative ways of cutting the programs struggling families count on to get through tough times of their own?

The administration pontificates about fighting waste and mismanagement in SNAP and other feeding programs, but such scrutiny of the trade bailout seems to be wholly absent. Just this past week, reports surfaced that the USDA significantly overpaid the producers of certain commodities, while underestimating the damage to others.

To explain away the president's clumsy farmer bailout and simultaneous assault on the hunger safety net as merely tending to his electoral base is irresponsible. The sadder truth is I simply don't believe the administration has any idea what it's doing. And in lieu of expertise, it has substituted cold political calculus to cover its tracks.

The thing is, poor people don't belong to one political party, they aren't only one color, and they don't live in just one kind of community. They are all of us. They are farmers, line cooks and bus drivers; roughnecks and longshoremen; teachers, nurses and janitors.

Farmers need help, and so do low-income people, and to help both groups, we have to free ourselves from the idea that assistance is zero-sum. Giving farmers billions in federal assistance shouldn't mean taking those billions from food-insecure families. In a nation that takes on trillions in debt so the rich can pay less in taxes, we absolutely have the capacity to invest in making sure both our food producers and our food consumers have access to the basic necessities.

EBT tokens, food stamps
A girls pays for her mother's groceries using Electronic Benefits Transfer tokens, more commonly known as food stamps, at the farmers market in New York City's Union Square on September 18, 2013. Andrew Burton/Getty

This is simply a matter of priorities, and that's where this becomes a political argument. The president has prioritized farmers because they are people he believes will vote for him. Conversely, he has taken from poor families because he believes they will not. The reality is, as the fallout from the trade war worsens, small-town economies where farm receipts play such an outsized role will suffer most.

The president's policies have seriously undercut two very important groups of people in our country: the people who produce our food and the millions of working poor who power our economy. The president has used his rhetoric to pit us against one another: those who produce the food against those who need it.

We have to resist being pawns in the president's games because, regardless of how we may feel about one another politically, we're all in this together, and we all need help from time to time.

Representative Marcia L. Fudge has represented the 11th Congressional District of Ohio since 2008. She chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.