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Why SNAP matters in the Farm Bill

Few pieces of federal legislation have as much control over the food we eat as the Farm Bill. Reauthorized by Congress approximately every five years, the Farm Bill contains numerous titles that cover everything from food safety and organic food production, to crop subsidies and food assistance. The Farm Bill represents a massive portion of government spending (about $489 billion from 2014-2018, according to the Congressional Budget Office), and plays an important role in the quality and accessibility of food in America.

The Senate is expected to take up the Farm Bill soon.

When Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, introduced the House’s version of the Farm Bill in April, family farm groups and hunger relief advocates were disappointed in the dramatic, and potentially harmful, changes to many of the existing Farm Bill programs, such as deep cuts in conservation funding and strict new work requirements for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). For the nearly 500,000 Minnesota families who rely on programs like SNAP, the Farm Bill may determine their ability to feed their children.

As a registered dietitian who works on the ground to increase healthy food access for economically disadvantaged children and families, I understand the physical, mental, emotional and academic consequences of food insecurity on children. While cuts to SNAP and other food assistance programs may be part of a short-term political calculus, the costs to children and families living in poverty are long-lasting. Despite SNAP’s effectiveness, it has emerged as a key point of contention in the Farm Bill debate, and disagreements over the program were cited as a reason the bill was voted down in the House.

The largest portion of the Farm Bill is the Nutrition Title, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of all Farm Bill spending. This title includes programs like SNAP and others that increase low-income Americans’ access to nutritious, affordable food. One such program, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) program, was created to help SNAP participants purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. The now-defunct Farm Bill that emerged from the House Agriculture Committee called for an increase in FINI funding to $275 million over the life of the bill. This would have been an important win not only for Americans who rely on SNAP to feed their families, but also for farmers growing nutritious foods on increasingly thin margins.

Katie Costello
Katie Costello

When it comes to the other proposed changes to SNAP, however, the picture is not as rosy. Against the wishes of Minnesota’s Rep. Collin Peterson and other Democrats, Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee called for changes that would have created more barriers to food access for low-income Americans. Some of the changes included raising the age requirement for so-called able-bodied adults without dependents to work at least 20 hours per week, increasing eligibility requirements, and making it more difficult for states to issue work requirement exemptions. Opponents contend that SNAP already includes work requirements and many states lack the administrative infrastructure to set up the proposed employment training programs called for in the House version. As a result, nearly 1 million people may have been forced off the SNAP program over the next decade.

Although implied, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is more than simply a supplement to many of the more than 40 million people (mostly children, the elderly or disabled) who received SNAP benefits in 2017. By one estimate, half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point during their childhood.

Federal funding for initiatives that facilitate healthy food access is critical, especially in light of evidence that the obesity problem in the United States continues to worsen. What’s more, obesity and other diet-related diseases (such as type II diabetes and cancer) are more likely to affect people with lower incomes. This makes SNAP and other federal food assistance programs even more powerful levers for health. Public health professionals and legislators must work collaboratively and creatively to ensure access to high-quality food for all Americans, no matter their income. The 2018 Farm Bill is an opportunity to do just that.

Katie Costello is a registered dietitian and a Community Food Systems program associate at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy. 

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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/07/2018 - 11:45 am.

    It is so disheartening that there is any dispute…

    …about SNAP. It appears to be a program where everybody wins !!

    We are so far, far away as a society from seeing food, housing, and healthcare as fundamental rights for all citizens.

    You can just imagine the battle to come over a basic minimum guaranteed income, which many of our forward thinkers argue will become absolutely necessary in future.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/11/2018 - 11:29 am.

      Right

      Steve,
      What is your rationale for thinking that healthy capable adults have a right to food, housing, and healthcare? Even if they refuse to learn, change their beliefs / behaviors, limit their family size to what they can afford personally, contribute to the betterment of our society, etc…

      To me the USA is like any other large social organization, the rights and benefits come with responsibilities and expectations.

      With that in mind, if you believe that all healthy capable adults have a right to food, housing, and healthcare…. What do you see as the responsibilities and expectations of all healthy capable adults?

      How do you want to hold people accountable for meeting those responsibilities and expectations?

      Or do you think all healthy capable adults should get the rewards of our society even if they resist learning, working, following our laws, being responsible parents, etc?

  2. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/07/2018 - 05:07 pm.

    Why

    You say this like it is a bad thing…

    “making it more difficult for states to issue work requirement exemptions.”

    Why are you against work requirements at this time of low unemployment?

    To me the goal is to help people that truly need help, and to forcefully push all others towards self sufficiency.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 06/08/2018 - 10:38 am.

      Mr. Tittirud thinks food stamps helps both our farmers

      and those who suffer food insecurity. I couldn’t agree more, nor can I understand NOT having SNAP.

      You say “…the goal is to help people who truly need help, and to forcefully push all others toward self sufficiency.”

      That’s pure B.F. Skinner- a proven method for training dogs. Kids should pick themselves up by their bootstraps?

      People on the bottom, down on their luck or simply caught in a cycle of poverty do not need your pompous judgmental tests to see if they are worthy of public food support.

      IMHO, you ought to exhibit some compassion like your sentence begins- ‘helping those who truly need help..”. Most of those food insecure are KIDS!

      Why not make a few calls today and ask about the backpack programs in MN schools. These folks know that when summer comes, many children come from families will not have enough food.

      Seriously, I would be ashamed to publicly admit, as you do, to be the arbiter of who eats food you didn’t buy, didn’t grow, distribute or donate. Our generous social programs have tried to preserve the dignity of those in need and to understand almost any of us could be hungry at some time in life. You seem to care not a whit for the population that faces need.

      You clearly want to teach austerity to the poor if they don’t earn it, while commodity prices are in the tank and farmers are facing a crisis made in part by these vicious stupid tariffs.

      recant. We can afford to provide SNAP, and everyone knows food is not to be used as a weapon.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/08/2018 - 11:39 am.

        Actually

        What I really want is for people to only bear the number of children that they can feed, care for well and responsibly raise.

        http://give2attain.blogspot.com/2017/01/how-to-win-war-on-poverty.html

        I don’t think it is fair to the children or our society when people who can barely care for themselves have more than 1 child.

        • Submitted by richard owens on 06/08/2018 - 01:26 pm.

          …and now the arbiter of family planning?

          Do you have any idea how you present yourself on topics of basic humanity?

          Politics is not a game of cruelty and settling scores with people whose decisions you do not like.

          It is a method to determine what policies will make us a better country.

          have you noticed the loss of hope among so many of our fellow citizens? The suicide rates? How would you like to grow up in a country that prides itself on hurting the very least of us?

          Why not spread some generosity or inspiration? Why not show some faith in humanity and accept those things you personally cannot should not control?

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/08/2018 - 03:05 pm.

            Question

            How does taking money from responsible parents and giving it irresponsible individuals who are making more babies than they can raise help America?

            Almost 40% of babies are in single parent households, a lot of children do not have the support at home to make them successful at school and all of this promotes generational poverty.

            I am happy to be generous to the charities that help people with my contributions; but I can not support enabling poor choices and trapping kids with dysfunctional people with public funds.

  3. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/10/2018 - 08:15 am.

    Investment

    Please remember that I am fine with tax payers funding SNAP, TANF, WIC, Job Training, Social Services, Medicaid, Public Schools. etc as long as we hold the recipients accountable for striving to improve themselves and escape poverty. Here is an interesting site that I just found that lists many of the programs available.
    http://www.federalsafetynet.com/us-welfare-programs.html

    Unfortunately it seems many of the folks with a more liberal perspective believe that tax payers should pay the expenses of a small percentage of our less motivated citizens and expect little in the way of improvement or effort from them. This is what I disagree with, I see it as a form of co-dependency and bigotry of low expectations.

    I personally believe that every person is capable of learning knowledge, skills and making good financial decisions for themselves and their family, given the correct incentives. Whereas some folks seem to doubt their capabilities, and therefore are against work and training requirements.

    Now tax payers care for the old infirm and young in the name of “humanity”. However when it come to spending money on healthy adults, that should be an investment in them with clear expectations, rewards and or lack of rewards.

    I often find it amusing when people say that Conservatives want to punish people for their chosen or inherited lifestyle. As if people are owed food, healthcare, housing, etc just for standing on American soil.

    The reality is that all the money that is spent on healthy citizens is a gift / investment from other tax payers. And that with holding a gift is not “punishment”, it is just not giving a gift / investment.

    I mean if someone applies for a grant and does not receive it… Is that a punishment?

  4. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/10/2018 - 02:07 pm.

    Facts and Data

    This an interesting piece that indicates that we greatly increased SNAP as a percent of GDP during the Great Recession and that things are just returning to where they were before. Thoughts?

    https://www.cbpp.org/research/policy-basics-the-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap

  5. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/10/2018 - 11:03 pm.

    Aimed at Men

    According to this piece it seems that many of these changes are aimed at getting able bodied men into the work force. Thoughts?
    http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/28/news/economy/welfare-reform-low-income-men/index.html

  6. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/11/2018 - 07:58 am.

    Another Question

    A reader reminded me that…

    “Most people receiving some form of govt assistance are children, elderly, disabled, or working. I believe there are few, if any, healthy, capable, non-working people collecting govt assistance.”

    So after pondering that and reading the CNN Money piece. I replied with the following question.

    “You said the magic word… Children… Please remember that 40% of all children are born to single Moms. And for Black children 70% are born to single Moms.

    And though things are better than back before 1996, the reality is that Mom’s get a lot of the work requirements waived.

    Now if you are correct that most of the benefits go to the children, elderly, disabled, or working. Why are so many Liberals freaking out over work requirements that do NOT impact those groups of people?”

    Any thoughts here?

  7. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/11/2018 - 02:54 pm.

    Another Question

    Does anyone know why the current work requirements are only for people between 18 and 49?
    https://www.vox.com/2018/4/25/17262764/farm-bill-food-stamp-snap-house-republican

    I mean for IRAs one has to be 59+ to withdraw…

    • Submitted by ian wade on 06/12/2018 - 01:34 pm.

      Ageism for one

      There’s documented evidence that it is much harder for those past the age of fifty to find meaningful employment, no matter how strong their skill set is.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/03/30/losing-a-job-is-always-terrible-for-workers-over-50-its-worse/?utm_term=.fc097775daf2

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/12/2018 - 10:02 pm.

        Back Story

        I was 47 when I was ousted from my job of 16 years due to internal politics / personalities… I know you will find this hard to believe, but I have strong opinions and ask questions that may frustrate folks occasionally. 🙂

        The good thing is that I had continually kept my skills and knowledge relevant. And I was happy to accept a less stressful position with a somewhat lower salary. So I was employed again in ~2 months. My only point of telling this story is to note that I have lived through the hurt, frustration, stress, sense of betrayal, confusion, etc.

        That said, we are commenting regarding the need to receive food from the tax payers. I am not sure that “meaningful employment” is the criteria I would use. When life gives you lemons one must make lemonade… Not stay unemployed and dependent on the tax payers of our country. From your source…

        “Sometimes, older workers have more savings, which allows them to take a break before job hunting again — even though the survey showed that people who started looking immediately were much more likely to be successful.”

        Please remember that the average older worker took a ~13% pay cut per your source… And the reality is that most of these older employees were likely paid pretty well compared to market because of year after year raises and the peter principle. So they like me are probably still pretty well compensated.

        • Submitted by ian wade on 06/13/2018 - 01:11 pm.

          So what?

          I was ousted as well and was able to rebound, but at the end of the day, our anecdotal experience means nothing. I know many people who were taken out in the their mid fifties, people who were just as successful, motivated and skilled as you or I, that couldn’t even get an interview, or made it through the process with flying colors, only to be discounted when their age became obvious. One size does NOT fit all, and when push comes to shove, no matter how much you believe, that keeping your skill set fresh and towing the company line protects you, you’re just head count and a salary number. Ageism is a very real issue.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/14/2018 - 10:32 am.

    The immorality of libertarianism

    The idea that we have a mission to compel self sufficiency as “forcefully” as possible is morally incoherent. The primary flaw of libertarian mentalities tends to be the absurd simplicity they rely on for basic organization.

    For instance, if we want workers to be self sufficient, why would we hammer them into poverty with low wages? A well paid workforce that can afford food and housing would be self sufficient would it not? The fact is that our safety net programs are subsidies for business owners and companies, not low paid workers. Sure, we wouldn’t need very much of any kind of “welfare” if everyone were paid enough to live on… why isn’t THAT our path to self sufficiency?

    As for living the life of luxury on the public dime… anyone here who want’s to is free to quit their jobs, lose their house, savings, and investments, and live like a King on welfare any time they want… I mean when you think about it… why are any of us working for living?

    The fact is that society and economics are seriously complex, and libertarian fantasies of self sufficiency notwithstanding there are a multitude of reasons that people end up in their various financial circumstances. A society and economy that’s not providing food and shelter to citizens is a failing society and economy and any “value” or “moral” system that fails to recognize that is a toxic monstrosity. The basic measure of any economy and society is how well off it’s poorest are, not how well off it’s wealthy are.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/14/2018 - 01:04 pm.

      Actually

      The controllable reasons poor people are poor seem pretty predictable:

      – low achievement in the area of education or skills

      – unwilling to do high hour, dirty or high travel jobs that are unpopular but sometimes pay more

      – pursuing their passion in a poor paying field (ie arts, charity, etc)

      – unwilling to relocate from their community

      – spend too much and or have too many children

      – addicted to smoking, alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc

      Now how again does giving these people tax dollars help them escape poverty in the long term?

      Now I whole heartedly that society needs to care for those who are or become physically or mentally disabled. And we need to provide a safety trampoline to help people up from temporary problems.

      However the idea that “work requirements” are in some way inhumane seems silly to me.

      And please remember that low paying jobs are low paying is because there is too much supply and too little demand… That is why I support deport illegal workers and stopping their entry until the lower wage jobs pay more. 🙂

      • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 06/15/2018 - 09:48 am.

        Too much supply?

        The unemployment rate is at historical lows. The number of job openings is at its highest point ever. Net illegal immigration is flat or declining. According to our traditional understanding of economics, this should be ripe conditions for wage growth. Yet, year-over-year wage growth is actually down, as of the May report.

        Something has fundamentally misfired in our economy.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/15/2018 - 12:09 pm.

          Not sure

          I am not sure what to say, this source shows increases at or around inflation. Of course we wish they were higher.
          https://www.frbatlanta.org/chcs/wage-growth-tracker.aspx?panel=1

          My guess is that we are feeling the first impacts of automation and the continuing effects of American consumers deserting the US workers. And that investors, skilled and technical workers will see continued increases, whereas things will get even harder for unskilled folks with low levels education.

          I mean our American consumers have chosen to stop supporting the folks working in the brick and mortar stores, folks working at the American factories, etc. So the jobs are changing to ever lower paying jobs for those with low skill and academic knowledge levels.

          Therefore my focus on ensuring kids are raised and educated very well by responsible and capable Parent(s)

  9. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/14/2018 - 10:25 pm.

    Wow!

    ‘By one estimate, half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point during their childhood.’

    That isn’t a symptom, that is a problem. And an unsustainable one at that. Much like Social Security, soon there won’t be enough people left NOT receiving benefits to pay for those that do.

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