by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: SNAP

Jun 20 2017

The administration’s war on food: summary by the Environmental Working Group

Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group summarizes Trump’s Full-Scale War on Food.  Since taking office, he writes, Trump has:

  • Proposed to cut food safety funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $117 million.
  • Proposed to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $193 billion – a 25 percent cut – and cut international food aid by $2 billion.
  • Delayed new labeling rules for menus and packaged foods that would give consumers more information about calories and added sugars, and so far failed to issue a draft rule to implement a new law on disclosing genetically modified ingredients in food.
  • Weakened new rules designed to drive junk food out of U.S. schools.
  • Proposed to eliminate several Department of Agriculture programs that helped farmers sell directly to local consumers.
  • Proposed to eliminate funding for an entire division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that works to reduce obesity.
  • Withdrawn new rules to protect drinking water supplies from polluters and proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent.
  • Proposed to suspended two of the largest farmland stewardship programs and mothball others.
  • Postponed new rules designed to strengthen animal welfare standards on organic farms and proposed to eliminate funding for programs that help farmers switch to organic farming.
  • Reversed a ban on a pesticide linked to brain damage in kids and proposed cutting EPA funding for pesticide review programs by 20 percent.
  • Punted on new rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides, and proposed to eliminate a program to train migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
  • Mothballed new voluntary sodium guidelines that would drive reformulation of foods.
  • Called for so-called regulatory “reforms” that would block agencies like the FDA and USDA from adopting new rules designed to keep food safe, update food labels or provide students healthier meal options in schools.

This is an impressive list, calling for serious resistance.

How?  That’s the question….

 

Jun 2 2017

A weekend project: SNAP stories

Moms Rising wants your help in collecting stories about SNAP from individuals and families who have been helped by SNAP and might be affected by cuts to the program.

The stories can be any length.  Moms Rising plans to compile them into a story book to be delivered to legislators along with a petition asking them to protect SNAP.

Stories can be submitted HERE.

May 4 2017

Widespread public support for SNAP changes

Voice of the People has the results of a survey finding that most respondents support:

  • Increased benefits for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) recipients [81%].
  • The idea that SNAP benefits should not be permitted to be used for candy and sodas [73-76%].
  • Providing incentives to encourage SNAP beneficiaries to eat more fruits and vegetables [90%].

Politico commented (April 26):

The findings suggest there is a massive divide between the public and Congress on SNAP issues. There is currently no feasible discussion of raising SNAP benefits, and a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing on SNAP restrictions showcased that there is bipartisan opposition to the idea on the committee.

Documents

Apr 24 2017

USDA asks Maine for more information–lot more–about its SNAP waiver request

In recent years, the USDA has received requests from several cities and states to allow pilot projects to remove sodas from items that can be purchased with SNAP benefit cards.

The agency has always found reasons to deny the requests, as it did for one from New York City in 2011.

The latest “denial” is to a request from the state of Maine for a pilot project to eliminate soft drinks and candy.  I put denial in quotes because it’s not actually a denial.   It’s a request for more information.  USDA wants to know:

  • Whether Maine’s previous responses to previous queries still apply.
  • What would happen without this restriction?
  • Whether there will be a pre- and post-implementation data collection on purchases before and after the pilot.
  • How Maine will correct for biases due to self-reporting of purchase data.
  • Why Maine isn’t planning to get agreement from retailers to provide data.
  • If Maine plans to provide a reasonable and legal time frame.
  • Whether Maine plans to submit a new request for a waiver to cover use of SNAP-ED funds.
  • What the evidence base is for using SNAP-ED funds as Maine plans.
  • The full costs of this effort.

If Maine is serious about wanting to do this, it will have a lot more work to do.  USDA might as well have issued another denial.

Feb 22 2017

Taking sodas out of SNAP: the debate

I’m out of the country for a few weeks (México) and missed the House hearing on whether SNAP-eligible food items should continue to include sugary beverages.

From what I gather, most witnesses opposed any change in the program, with one from the American Enterprise Institute the lone holdout.

As I discussed in the chapter on SNAP in Soda PoliticsI continue to think that taking sugar-sweetened beverages out of the package is a no brainer.

  • They are sugars and water and have no nutritional value.
  • Tons of research links their consumption to a higher risk for obesity and its consequences.
  • SNAP recipients spend a lot of taxpayer money on them.
  • SNAP recipients may well have worse diets and higher proportions of chronic disease than equally poor people who do not get SNAP benefits.
  • Surveys say that SNAP recipients would not mind this change.
  • SNAP recipients can always buy sodas with their own cash.

I recognize that not everyone sees things this way.  I suspect that people opposed to this idea are worried that any change to SNAP will leave it vulnerable to cuts, and they could well be right.

Here are their arguments:

Politico provides some sound bites on the topic:

  • “Food surveillance violates the basic principles of this great country.” — Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.)
  • “What can we do to incentivize rather than punish?” — Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.)
  • “If you want to do a pilot program, I’m happy to co-sponsor one at the White House. I’m worried about our president’s eating habits.” — Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Ma.)

The state of Maine, however, has just renewed its request to USDA to remove sugar-sweetened beverages and candy from SNAP-eligible items.

Maine believes the purchase of sugar sweetened beverages and candy is detrimental to the health of the SNAP population, and is antithetical to the purpose of the SNAP program.

SNAP is supposed to be a nutrition program, no?  Nutrition is about a lot more than calories (and this from someone who wrote a book about calories).

Feb 7 2017

What’s up with SNAP?  An unsystematic roundup

I’ve been collecting miscellaneous items about SNAP, particularly those related to USDA’s promised release of information about the amount of SNAP benefits spent at specific retail stores.  Here’s the first:

The USDA alerted retailers that this information would be forthcoming (information about the legal challenges is here).  A few weeks ago, the USDA said:

You may have been contacted by email, voicemail and/or text because you are a current or former SNAP authorized retailer, who participated between 2005 and the present, and FNS received a request for records that will disclose each of your store’s individual annual SNAP sales amounts.  This information will be released promptly (i.e., approximately 12 calendar days from the email, voicemail, and/or text) to the public as the result of a court order.

But then the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) filed a motion to stop the release.  Why?  ” FMI seeks to preserve the confidentiality of sensitive data about the performance of its members’ stores.”

The court agreed to hear the appeal.

The USDA says it won’t release the information until the court case is resolved.

Why do you suppose the FMI does not want anyone to know how much money they get from SNAP purchases?

SNAP advocates have called for release of this information for years.  The delays are frustrating.

We will know more in a couple of weeks.

Other items

  • The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill to limit SNAP purchases to healthy foods.
  • Economists at Brown University have produced a new study demonstrating that SNAP benefits raise household spending on food more than would an equivalent cash benefit.  Brown’s press release explains it.
  • This morning’s Politico Pro Agriculture says that “House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) will call a hearing on SNAP purchases., citing the USDA report that sweetened beverages are the number two product class purchased.
Jan 11 2017

What SNAP recipients buy at one big retail grocery

Advocates have been pressing USDA for years to (1) get data on what SNAP recipients buy with their benefits, and (2) permit pilot studies of what happens to purchases of soft drinks if you exclude them from the benefit package.

In 2012, I did a post on the 2012 SNAP to Health report.  Its recommendations:

  1.  Protect SNAP benefits.
  2.  Collect data

Lots of people have been trying to get USDA to produce data.  Anahad O’Connor, the author of the New York Times account, filed a Freedom of Information request with USDA.  In response, USDA sent him a report it had commissioned from IMPAQ, a “beltway bandit” consulting firm.  His story is here (I’m quoted).

Now we have a partial answer.  IMPAQ analyzed data from one large, unnamed retailer (could it be Walmart?).

Here’s USDA’s summary of the study (and here’s the complete study).

The USDA says the study shows that SNAP recipients buy pretty much the same amounts of what everyone else buys.

Summary category data show that both SNAP and non-SNAP households focused their spending in a relatively small number of similar food item categories, reflecting similar food choices. The top five summary categories totaled about half of the expenditures for SNAP households and non-SNAP households (50 versus 47 percent). Commodity-level data (in the full report) show that both SNAP and non-SNAP households made choices that may not be fully consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

My reading of the report suggests that in this study, SNAP recipients spent more of a combination of their SNAP benefits and their own private money on:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Hamburger
  • Frozen meals
  • Salty snacks
  • Lunch meats
  • Flavored milk
  • Kids cereals
  • Frozen French fries
  • Convenience foods in general
  • Infant formula

The report does not discuss why these differences might exist but it would be interesting to find out.

If sugar-sweetened beverages really comprise 9.5% of purchases, that comes to $6 billion a year.

That’s why taking them off the list of eligible foods is worth a try.

Recent SNAP news

The USDA is sponsoring a pilot project to allow SNAP participants to buy foods online from certain retailers, including Amazon in three states, Fresh Direct in New York, and various grocery chains in other states.

The idea is to make it easier for SNAP participants to get access to healthier foods.

I hope the USDA is keeping score on what gets bought online, and whether foods cost more.  The benefits are not allowed to be used for delivery costs.

Jan 4 2017

SNAP to Health launches new website, resources

I was a member of the commission that developed the SNAP to Health report.  We recommended getting more information about what foods SNAP participants purchase with their benefits and conducting pilot studies or taking sugary drinks out of the eligible items.

Now SNAP to Health has redesigned its website as a a virtual town hall for information and resources regarding food insecurity, obesity prevention, and the current state of federal food assistance programs.  It has also added sections for WIC resources.

Here’s the press release about the new site.

And here’s one more item about SNAP

Pushing for drug testing of SNAP recipients: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is still trying to do this in his state.  According to Politico

Wisconsin U.S. District Court Judge Charles Clevert threw out a lawsuit the state had filed against USDA in July 2015 that sought to prevent the department from blocking the state from implementing a drug-testing requirement for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Clevert said Wisconsin filed suit too soon, because it did not allow USDA to formally reject the state’s new requirement. Normally, states request waivers from USDA when they want to add their own SNAP requirements, but Wisconsin filed its suit preemptively — leading Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to suggest shortly after the suit was filed that it was a political move by Walker, since he was a GOP candidate in the 2016 presidential race. (Walker ended his campaign in September 2015.)

“The reason why [Walker] hasn’t requested a waiver is because he knows it’s not going to be granted because the law is pretty clear,” Vilsack said at the time.

This is a bad idea.  I hope he forgets it.

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