The clock is ticking for Congress to pass a new farm bill. If an agreement can’t be reached and a bill isn’t passed before the end of the year consumers will see higher food prices.
One of the greatest increases will likely be for dairy products, because without a new farm bill dairy policies will revert back to laws created in the 1940s.
“Unfortunately, if Congress fails to act by the end of the year families and farmers in south-central Wisconsin could see the price of milk double starting in 2014,” U.S. Rep.Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said.
A Senate version of the farm bill passed with a 66-27 vote. That version called for $10 billion in cuts to spending over a 10-year period to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is seeking $38 billion in cuts over the same period.
A Congressional conference committee is working to hammer out a compromise. The congressional session is scheduled to end Friday, and if a deal isn’t worked out before then the farm bill will expire.
“We’ve had one year in which we’ve done nothing and now we have one week to pretty much do everything,” Pocan said.
The doubling of milk prices will be particularly challenging for consumers like Valerie Grover. The single mother of two boys, ages 6 and 8, is concerned about the impact rising prices will have on her budget.
“I can’t balance their health care and their well-being and their education against food. It all needs to come together,” Grover said. “They are 6 and 8 years old, and they’re growing like they are twice that age and it is not negotiable. They’re going to have their food.”
Given the significance of the dairy industry in Wisconsin, allowing the farm bill to expire is also expected to have an impact on the state’s economy.
“In a state like Wisconsin, south central Wisconsin where agriculture is so strong it will have a lot of impact that we will feel in the area,” Pocan said.
Funding for the SNAP program, also known as food stamps, is tied into the farm bill.
Thousands of families in the area rely on food stamps to help put food on the table.
That includes Dustin Dixon's family of six. They receive just under $250 a month in aid.
"They were talking down at ECHO, gallons of milk could be $8 if this bill doesn’t pass. There's no way I can afford $8 a gallon. We drink 6-8 gallons of milk a week,” Dixon said.
Dixon, like many others in Rock County, relies on the ECHO food pantry, but said sometimes they have to be creative when they are cooking.
"We have a whole cabinet full of recipes and books that we make our food from to try and survive to keep food in the house all the time,” Dixon said.
Dixon says he works nearly 50 hours a week and fears he may have to get another job if food stamps are cut by Congress.