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Everybody on board the wagon

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Are you on the wagon?

This has nothing to do with your alcohol consumption, which is none of my business. It refers to government benefits—specifically programs that subsidize food purchases for the poor.

richard smoley produce blueprints

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) BB #:378962 has criticized a bill approved by the House subcommittee on agriculture that would remove key benefits from Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to the detriment of both public health and the produce industry. IFPA disappointed by House Ag bill WIC cuts and grower impact – Produce Blue Book

“The decision to rescind the enhanced fruit and vegetable benefit (Benefit Bump) amount in the WIC program is harmful to children and families,” said IFPA vice president of nutrition and health Mollie Van Lieu.

“The Benefit Bump, in place since April 2021, reaches nearly 5 million women and children, and directly reflects science-based targets laid out by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) to deliver at least 50 percent of fruit and vegetable intake recommended by the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).

“The FY24 bill reflects a 56% reduction in benefits for children and a 70% drop for women. With this decision, children will receive just $11 a month for fruits and vegetables starting October 1 of this year,” Van Lieu added.

So where does the wagon come in? It has to do with the key motivation—acknowledged or unacknowledged—in the food stamp debate: fear of freeloaders, deadbeats, and welfare queens.

In this context, it may be useful to look back at a discussion between the House subcommittee on agriculture and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, which took place in March.

It does not refer directly to WIC, but to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which also provides food assistance to people with low incomes.

At one point during this discussion, we learn from Farm Progress, Vilsack snapped, “What do you think about the fact that there are working men and women with children who require SNAP because they’re working for $7.50 an hour?” he said. “Do you think we should increase the minimum wage?”

According to Farm Progress, subcommittee member Rep. Barry Moore (R-AL) “dismissed the suggestion but offered no alternative plan. Instead, he pivoted to an oft-repeated analogy about nobody left to pull the wagon if everyone is riding.”

A more circumspect comment from committee chairman GT Thompson (R-PA) during the same meeting: “The culture of dependence must be replaced with a culture of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility. And the culture of permanence must no longer be a way of life.”

The proposed WIC — like proposed SNAP cuts — cuts are grounded in the belief that food stamps benefit freeloaders— people too lazy to understand or care that anyone can become a millionaire in this great nation of ours with enough gumption and hard work.

I will refrain from stating my own opinion on this matter. But it is time for an industry that stands to lose $1.2 billion in lost WIC purchases (Van Lieu’s figure) to ask if it supports federal policies based on this mentality.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this column referred to incorrect government programs affected by the proposed cuts. We regret the error.

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.