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Area reaction to passage of farm legislation mixed

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Volunteer Ellen Avila prepares food items for distribution before opening the doors to the Feed My Sheep Food Pantry on Monday at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in DeKalb. The church hosts the food pantry every Monday and Thursday.

DeKALB – The passage of the $100-billion-a-year farm program drew varied reactions across DeKalb County, from people concerned about food security to farmers relieved to have a safety net.

President Barack Obama signed the five-year plan into law Friday after it passed the House and the Senate with bipartisan support last week. The sweeping legislation covers programs that aid farmers as well as those who receive food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, had been an issue of congressional debate for years.

While farmers will continue to receive subsidies, the law ends the $4.5 billion direct government payment subsidy that farmers received whether they produced anything or not. The law adds around $570 million a year to crop insurance subsidies, something Somonauk farmer and DeKalb County Farm Bureau President Mark Tuttle applauded.

“If the government has to subsidize something, the insurance is the best thing,” Tuttle said. “You have a man who puts everything in his crops. All the farmers are asking for is a safety net.”

Most of the subsidies benefit farmers who grow commodity crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice. However, the law also includes support for livestock and dairy farmers.

Victor Township farmer Roy Plote appreciated the extension of the livestock indemnity program, which offers protection to livestock farmers for the animals they lose during a disaster.

“It gives me the ability to choose how I want to protect my livestock the same as people protect their crops,” said Plote, who has around 500 head of cattle under his watch. “We were at a disadvantage compared to the crop farmer.”

Although farmers are closely examining the law’s details, their subsidies make up only 20 percent of the legislation. A majority of the $100 billion law funds the food stamp program, which serves 47 million Americans, including 2 million Illinoisans.

The law cuts the food stamp program by $800 million annually, or 1 percent. The bill originally discussed in the House called for a 5 percent cut to food stamps. The cuts are aimed at cracking down on states that use heating benefits to boost food stamps. Illinois is not one of those states.

The 1 percent cut still leaves people like Cynthia Jones, 49, of DeKalb, worried. Jones visited a food pantry for the first time in her life last week as she continued to reel from a nearly 65 percent cut in her food stamps. Jones said her food stamp benefits were slashed in November after a boost from the 2009 Recovery Act expired. Money is tight for Jones, who is on disability, and her fiancé, Carl McKee, who is in between jobs.

“It makes me feel great that these resources are here,” McKee said while standing in line at Bethehem Lutheran Church in DeKalb, adding paying for food isn’t always an option. “Sometimes, it’s choosing between food and the gas bill or the light bill or doing the laundry.”

About a third of the people who visit Bethlehem’s food pantry receive food stamps. Last month, the pantry served 2,000 people from 800 families, according to Gretchen McCleary, an administrative assistant at the church.

Mary Nikonsuk, 59, of Sycamore, receives $48 a month in food stamps, down from the $63 a month she received before the November cuts. She was disheartened to learn about the cuts included in the law.

“Without food pantries, I would starve to death and the government doesn’t give a [darn],” Nikonsuk said.

McCleary said the church’s food pantry, is trying to keep up with the influx of people seeking help in the wake of cuts in their unemployment benefits and food aid payments.

Although the church hasn’t had trouble keeping shelves stocked, McCleary’s concerned about what will happen when temperatures start to climb.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell what will happen, but I’m sure we’ll get more people,” she said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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