How Will Farm Bill & Food Stamp Cuts Impact Indian Country?

Rob Capriccioso, ICTMN

When the federal government shut down last fall, it wasn’t just monuments and national parks that closed as a result. Funding streams for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were also reduced, and, in turn, Indian programs meant to feed hungry families were stretched thin.

“It was a canary in the coal mine for what we’re going to see next,” says Janie Simms Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law, who predicts that the new cuts by Congress to SNAP will be difficult for many Native American families to bear.

On February 4, the Senate passed a farm bill by a vote of 68 – 32 that calls for $8 billion in cuts to the SNAP food-stamp program over the next decade; the Senate vote followed a 251-166 affirmative vote on the same bill in the House January 29. It’s a smaller cut than the $40 billion House Republicans passed last September, but still big enough to have Indian food and nutrition specialists worried about the net result.

RELATED: House Approves $40 Billion Cut to Food Stamps Over 10 Years

According to federal statistics, SNAP in 2008 served an average of 540,000 low-income people who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native alone and 260,000 who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native and White per month. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) says that 20 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native households receive food stamps.

Tod Roberson, president of the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), says that the reduced federal funding resulting from the October shutdown, combined with new federal rules affecting FDPIR that went into effect around the same time, led to an increase in participation at nearly every tribal FDPIR site. FDPIR is a federal program that provides U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) foods through tribes to low-income Indian country-based households; it served approximately 80,000 individuals per month in fiscal year 2011, according to administrative data. Over 275 tribes currently participate in FDPIR, but there are 566 federally recognized tribes, so many tribal citizens don’t have access.

“One tribe has already seen an additional 1,000 plus new participants,” Roberson says. “The monthly participation levels are being closely monitored in comparison to past trends.”

If the immediate past is prologue, Roberson says it is “extremely plausible that additional resources will be needed” for FDPIR as a result of the SNAP cuts, which are expected to soon be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The hope of many tribal advocates is that the FDPIR program can pick up the slack for most Indian families, but whether there are enough resources for that to happen is unknown right now.

“We’re going to see a ripple,” says Hipp, who founded the USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations before joining the University of Arkansas in 2013. “If you take the lesson of the shutdown as an example of what could happen upon full implantation of cuts to SNAP, we (tribes and tribal citizens) really need to be prepared.”

On another worrisome note beyond food stamps, tribal leaders with the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes are lamenting that the farm bill includes language inserted by Rep. Frank Lewis (R-Oklahoma) that continue to keep traditional tribal homelands away from the tribe. The tribe unsuccessfully called on Congress to remove the language, which was first inserted in 2002, once more in 2008, and now again in 2014.

Alongside the negatives, there are a few new provisions in the farm bill that are cause for celebration in Indian country. One of these provisions requires

a feasibility study from the Secretary of Agriculture on the tribal administration of federal food assistance programs. “FDPIR is already managed by tribes [and] FDPIR has proven that tribes can effectively run these programs and in most if not all cases do so with greater attention to the needs on the ground of their people,” Hipp says of the provision. “I’m all in favor of turning over these programs to be run by tribes for the benefit and service to their people.”

The farm bill also creates a new demonstration project for the FDPIR to include traditional and locally grown foods by Native farmers, ranchers, and producers. “This shows that Congress is acknowledging that local, traditional foods continue to be important to our people,” says Hipp, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.

Both the feasibility study and the demonstration project still need to receive funding from congressional appropriators, but tribal advocates, including those at NCAI, say the authorizing language is a positive – and long fought for – first step.

For both provisions to be successful, Hipp says that the input of FDPIR tribal managers and other Indian food and agricultural experts will be important. “Such a study and demonstration project must be handled in a way and by entities that truly understand Indian country agriculture from farm to fork, and tribal governments must be involved as they have the authority to set policy within their jurisdictional borders that would form the ongoing cradle for local and traditional food production, “ she says. “The study should not be done by an entity without that intimate level of knowledge, or we won’t uncover all the issues that should be included in a comprehensive report on the topic.”

A third new provision of the farm bill related to Indian country allows for the use of traditional foods in public food services programs such as schools, elder care facilities, and hospitals and makes tribes explicitly eligible for Soil and Water Conservation Act Programs.

While the pro-Indian provisions in the final legislation are exciting to advocates like Hipp, the cuts are still tough to swallow. “I’m not excited about any cuts to hunger programs—we have a whole bunch of hungry people,” she says. “But at the end of the day I’m also a student of agriculture policy, and farm bills have always been an exercise in compromise.”





House Farm Bill Provision would make eating fish more dangerous

As featured on eNews Park, Dec 5, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2013.  It’s farm bill debate time—again. And as conferee members saddle up to the negotiation table to attempt yet another meeting of the minds before the winter recess, most of the public watching and waiting for word on a resolution are focused on issues like food stamps and milk.

What most are not waiting for and has not been at the forefront of the media and public discussion concerning the pending farm bill negotiations are the small but dangerous provisions of the House bill concerning the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (expanded and overhauled as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pesticides used near, over, and in water. It should be.

fishing-207x300Seeking to nullify the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA and the resulting general permit, sections 12323 and 100013 amend CWA to exclude pesticides from the law’s standards and its permitting requirements. Known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), CWA requires all point sources, which are discernible and discreet conveyances, to obtain either individual or general permits. Whether a point source must obtain an individual or general permit depends on the size of the point source and type of activity producing the pollutants. Regardless of whether it is a general permit or individual permit, an entity cannot pollute without a permit and in most cases can only permit in the amounts (called effluent limitations) and ways prescribed in the permit.

Separate, but inextricably linked to the NPDES program, are CWA’s water quality standards, under which states are responsible for designating waterbody uses (such as swimmable or fishable) and setting criteria to protect those uses. If a water body fails to meet the established criteria for its use, then it is deemed impaired and the states, or EPA, if the state fails to act, must establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a kind of pollutant diet. The system comes full circle in that impaired waters with TMDLs can be integrated into the NPDES permits.

Neither CWA nor the NPDES program are perfect, but one need look no further than the fish we eat to understand the important role that this critical environmental framework plays in limiting human exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

CWA, Fish, and the Pesticide Connection

In the recently released Environmental Health Perspectives’ article, Meeting the Needs of the People: Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest, the complexities of the CWA, its NPDES progam, and its water quality standards criteria are laid out in a disturbing tale of environmental justice and failing bureaucracies.

In short, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat a lot of fish. It’s part of their culture and a way of life preserved in their legal and tribal rights, but they are facing increasing health risks due to the toxic chemicals in those fish. The solution to this problem seems fairly straight-forward: reduce the toxins in the water so that the levels in the fish are safe to eat. It’s a solution envisioned by CWA and its web of regulatory protections, however, as the article explains, “One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate.”

While the takeaway from the article is somewhat defeating and shows the far-reaching weaknesses of existing risk assessment methodologies, the underpinnings of the article —the connection between a water body’s water quality criteria, an entities NPDES permit, and the safety of the fish we put in our mouths— cannot be dismissed as irrelevant tales of woe. Whether the system is functioning perfectly or not, the point is that a system exists that contemplates the risks inherent to consuming toxin-laced fish and has the potential to protect the general consuming public.

From Fish Back to the Farm Bill

What does not have this ability is the Federal, Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Act (FIFRA). It is this federal framework, however, on which supporters of the House provision hang their hats and point to as the already-in-place protective standard capable of preventing water pollution from pesticides. Beyond Pesticides has debunked this argument in more ways than one. Other environmental advocacy groups have also pointed out that the sky has not fallen since EPA’s implementation of the general pesticide permit under CWA.

The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that every community, from tribe to urban neighborhood, has the right to enjoy fishable and swimmable bodies of water. There is a lot of work still to be done to improve the nation’s waters and protect the health of people dependent on those waters.  Without the Clean Water Act, there are no common sense backstops or enforcement mechanisms for reducing direct applications of pesticides to waterways. It may not be perfect, but it is better than nothing, which would be the effect of the House farm bill. We can’t afford to lose these protections.

Tell your Senators to oppose any efforts to undermine the Clean Water Act.


For more information, read our factsheet, Clearing up the Confusion Surrounding the New NPDES General Permit and visit our Threatened Waters page.

Sources:  Environmental Health Perspectives, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

NCAI Prez Demands New Farm Bill After Blizzard That Killed 100,000 Animals

Christina RoseDead cattle await burial on the Pine Ridge Reservation after the record-breaking, rogue blizzard that hit South Dakota in early October. Newly elected NCAI President Brian Cladoosby is urging Congress to pass the stalled farm bill, which would help aid those who lost livestock in the disaster.

Christina Rose
Dead cattle await burial on the Pine Ridge Reservation after the record-breaking, rogue blizzard that hit South Dakota in early October. Newly elected NCAI President Brian Cladoosby is urging Congress to pass the stalled farm bill, which would help aid those who lost livestock in the disaster.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Fresh from his election as the 21st president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Brian Cladoosby has made it a priority to get aid for tribal members whose homes or livestock were wiped out by the record-breaking, early-season blizzard that devastated South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Reservation earlier this month.

RELATED: Brian Cladoosby Is President of the National Congress of American Indians

The government may have reopened, but in the wake of its 16-day shutdown, a key farm bill still languishes that would provide assistance to ranchers and landowners who lost millions when 100,000 cows, horses and other animals died in the blizzard, many of them on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

RELATED: Entombed in Snow: Up to 100,000 Cattle Perished Where They Stood in Rogue South Dakota Blizzard

“As I begin my term, my thoughts and prayers are with the South Dakota tribes,” Cladoosby said in a statement, his first since being elected on October 17. “The Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes have been devastated by the recent storm that swept the Great Plains—and the federal government failed, again, to maintain treaty agreements that ensure disaster relief is provided when citizens are in distress. When the federal government neglects citizens in times of emergency, the effects can be long term.”

One of the bill’s provisions would be to make disaster relief available under the Livestock Indemnity Program, which would pay ranchers part of the animals’ market value, Reuters reported on October 8. The deadline to extend the 2008 farm bill was October 1—the very day that the government stopped working. Now the government is back in business, but a vote has yet to be held.

Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are scheduled to meet next week to try and reconcile their respective versions of the bill, according to the Billings Gazette. It had already been stalled for months before the shutdown.

During the shutdown, livestock producers could not file the paperwork on their losses with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Agency, Reuters said. All that state and tribal authorities could do was tell them to carefully document the losses as they buried their cattle and horses in mass graves.

RELATED: The Government Shutdown Hits Indian Country Hard on Many Fronts

Cladoosby, who is also chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said thresholds for assistance should be lowered for federal tribal disaster assistance and urged Congress to make Native issues a priority in the “post-shutdown calendar.”

Collapsing homes and widespread livestock losses are just the beginning, Cladoosby said, since the damage will cause tribal ranchers and farmers in South Dakota for years “as they will now have to rebuild their livelihoods from scratch.”

The first step, he said, should be to pass the farm bill.

“Allowing the current Farm Bill to lapse without action, coupled with the government shutdown, meant that support systems at the Department of Agriculture were unavailable to Native farmers and ranchers during this terrible storm,” Cladoosby said.

“Congress must pass a Farm Bill that will support tribal nations and others around the country who are in dire straits and it must keep nutrition programs with farm policies because there should never be a disconnect between food production and feeding people,” he said. “Congress must act immediately to provide rapid recovery for our tribes and work to ensure that political gamesmanship and inactivity does not harm Native peoples again.”

Help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can go only so far, even with the Stafford Act allowing tribes to apply in their own right, Cladoosby said, because aid doesn’t kick in at the amounts of money that people make, and lost in the disaster. The dollar amount triggering aid eligibility needs to be lower, he said.

“The high monetary damages threshold hampers impoverished areas because what is lost by low-income citizens often does not meet the required amount,” Cladoosby said. “The federal government has a fiduciary duty to protect tribal citizens, but without changes to the threshold, tribal citizens will continue to suffer from the consequences of disasters.”

He added the lack of action not only violated treaty and sovereignty rights but also cut off food supply to many tribal members.

“These failures of Congress prolong the claims process and inhibit Native food production and economic development,” Cladoosby said. “Further, with no Farm Bill and the lack of government funding for food assistance programs, many tribal citizens were left without access to food all while these vital programs are used as political bargaining chips. No one—especially our tribal citizens most in need—should ever have to go without food while being used as pawns in the lawmaking process.”