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Farmers Albany conference question food stamp cuts

Minority farmers discuss new farm bill

John Zippert, director of program operations for the the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said he thought the major cut in food stamps was not a helpful part of the new farm bill. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

John Zippert, director of program operations for the the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said he thought the major cut in food stamps was not a helpful part of the new farm bill. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Members of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown Thursday for the their 31st annual conference.

At least some of them arrived. Harsh winter weather kept many of them away. U.S Rep. Sanford Bishop D-Ga., and keynote speaker, Krysta Harden, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were unable to come because of the weather.

According to Federation materials, the Federation is established for the benefit of small black and minority farmers, and holds a yearly conference to discuss current agricultural issues and to assist its membership. Among the primary issues for 2014 is the five-year nearly $1 trillion farm bill passed earlier this months.

John Zippert, director of program operations for the federation, expressed relief that most of the 37 programs designed specifically to help small and minority farmers, but cut during last year’s extension of the bill, have been restored. He’s concerned, he said, with the $8.9 billion cut in food stamps over the five-year life of the new bill.

“This is a real cut,” Zippert said, “and it affects about 850,000 families. I don’t think it’s helpful to the people who need the foods stamps, and it’s not helpful for people who produce the food.”

Zippert called the philosophy of those who favored food stamp cuts “misguided,” and even harmful to the economy.

“The people who are getting the stamps are actually working, but not making enough money,” Zippert said. “The whole thing of cutting doesn’t make sense because the people would spend the money right away. It’s an economic stimulus. They’ll live better and have a better chance. Unfortunately, some of the tea party people who supported a cut didn’t vote for the farm bill anyway.”

Zippert said one helpful addition to the bill is a requirement that farmers denied services from the USDA would be guaranteed a written receipt outlining why they were turned down and what information or other actions would be required to obtain the services.

“In the past, some people have been turned down without a good explanation,” Zippert said.”With the mandatory receipts it’s easy for the federation to assist those farmers.”