by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-assistance

Feb 18 2020

The Trump Administration’s proposed budget (Sigh)

The Trump Administration has released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2021.

I emphasize proposed because Congress has to pass it before it goes into effect.  What will Congress do?  Time will tell.

With that said, here are the White House documents.

From the Hagstrom Report (thanks Jerry)

These sections are classic examples of double-speak.  The words mean precisely their opposites.  “Reform,” for example, really means cut budget and enrollment.

You want evidence?  The budget proposes an 8% cut to overall USDA spending, with a $15 billion cut to SNAP.

The Fact Sheet summarizes SNAP proposals [with my translations]:

Reforming [cutting budget and reducing SNAP participation]the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Budget proposes to strengthen work requirements to help all able-bodied adults participating in SNAP enter the job market and work toward self-sufficiency [lose eligibility for participation].

The Budget also promotes the use of data and technology to improve program integrity and streamline State operations [Tightening up on fraud will reduce participation].

Finally, the Budget proposes to combine the traditional retail-based SNAP electronic benefit with the direct provision of nutritious and 100 percent Americangrown USDA Foods, maintaining our commitment to helping needy families avoid hunger while generating substantial savings to the taxpayer and allowing innovative partnerships with the private sector [Really?  USDA still hasn’t given up on Harvest Boxes?].

This is so awful that a group of Democratic members—all former recipients of SNAP benefits— wrote a letter to Trump expressing concerns.

Let’s hope Congress rejects these cuts.

The New York Times’ analyses

Nov 26 2019

Good news: Changes to the WIC package are associated with a lower prevalence of obesity among young kids

Here’s some good news for a change.  The CDC announces that young children enrolled in the WIC program are reducing their prevalence of obesity.

The study: State-Specific Prevalence of Obesity Among Children Aged 2–4 Years Enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — United States, 2010–2016.  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) November 22, 2019 / 68(46);1057–1061.

The happy result:  “Among children aged 2–4 years enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), obesity prevalence decreased from 15.9% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2016 and during 2010–2014, decreased in 34 of the 56 WIC state or territory agencies.”

One possible explanation:  WIC revised its food packages a few years ago to emphasize healthier food options in order to

promote fruit, vegetable, and whole wheat product purchases; support breastfeeding; and give WIC state and territory agencies more flexibility to accommodate cultural food preferences….In addition, the availability of healthier foods and beverages in authorized WIC stores has increased. Children enrolled in WIC consumed more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products and less juice, white bread, and whole milk after the revisions than they did before.

Comment: Here is evidence that eating more healthfully promotes healthier body weights.  Let’s do more of this.

Note: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s State of Childhood Obesity report provides an interactive map, state by state.

Nov 12 2019

SNAP: A special section in the American Journal of Public Health:

I guest-edited a series of papers on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).  The papers are now online and will be in print in the December issue of the journal.

AJPH SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, served as Guest Editor for the special section: “AJPH Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.” M. Nestle oversaw peer review for the articles, provided input on peer reviewer selection and peer review evaluation, suggested which articles would appear in the special section, and wrote the lead Commentary.

Conflicts of interest disclosure: Marion Nestle’s retirement benefits and a small fund from New York University support her research, publications, and Web site (foodpolitics.com). She receives royalties from books—and honoraria, travel, and meals related to lectures—about matters relevant to this special section.

PODCAST

Alfredo Morabia, the executive editor of AJPH, interviewed one of the authors, Joanna Cruz Simmons, and me in his monthly podcast.

SECTION OVERVIEW

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): History, Politics, and Public Health Implications.  Marion Nestle.  109(12), pp. 1631–1635.

EVIDENCE

Links of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program With Food Insecurity, Poverty, and Health: Evidence and Potential.  Brynne Keith-Jennings, Joseph Llobrera and Stacy Dean.  109(12), pp. 1636–1640.  Supplemental Material

RURAL SNAP

Importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Rural America.  Lisa Harnack, Sruthi Valluri and Simone A. French.  109(12), pp. 1641–1645.

URBAN SNAP

SNAP at the Community Scale: How Neighborhood Characteristics Affect Participation and Food Access.  Nevin Cohen.  109(12), pp. 1646–1651

COLLEGE STUDENT SNAP

College Students and SNAP: The New Face of Food Insecurity in the United States.   Nicholas Freudenberg, Sara Goldrick-Rab and Janet Poppendieck.  109(12), pp. 1652–1658.

SNAP DATA

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Data: Why Disclosure Is Needed.  Jennifer L. Pomeranz. 109(12), pp. 1659–1663

SNAP PARTICIPANTS

Recommendations From SNAP Participants to Improve Wages and End Stigma.  Tianna Gaines-Turner, Joanna Cruz Simmons and Mariana Chilton.  109(12), pp. 1664–1667.

INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS

Alternatives to SNAP: Global Approaches to Addressing Childhood Poverty and Food Insecurity.  Lia C. H. Fernald and Wendi Gosliner.  109(12), pp. 1668–1677.   Supplemental Material

Jul 30 2019

USDA wants to remove 3.1 million people from SNAP

Every time I think the USDA has done the worst damage it possibly can—I’m still reeling from the destruction of the Economic Research Service—it comes up with another bad idea.

This time, the USDA has proposed to “close a SNAP eligibility loophole,” in quotes because this is USDA-speak for throwing people off the rolls.

The “loophole” refers to permitting states to automatically enroll low-income people on SNAP (and low-income children on school meals) if they qualified for temporary financial assistance.

But, as the agency explains in its press release,

The proposed rule would fix a loophole that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it. In fact, the depth of this specific flexibility has become so egregious that a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program simply to highlight the waste of taxpayer money.

The press release goes on to say that

This proposal gives USDA the ability to save billions of dollars, ensuring nutrition assistance programs are delivered with consistency and integrity to those most in need.

Yeah.  Right.

A USDA Fact Sheet explains that 3.1 million SNAP recipients get benefits because of the loophole.

USDA officials told reporters that 300,000 children will become ineligible for school meals unless their parents now go through application processes.

The USDA’s cost/benefit analysis, has interesting things to say, first about how much money will this measure save:

$9.4 billion over the five years 2019-2023. Included in this is an estimated reduction in Federal transfers of approximately $10.543 billion over the five-year period as well as a $1.157 billion increase in Federal administrative costs. The Department estimates an additional $1.157 billion in administrative costs to State agencies (for a total of $2.314 billion in additional administrative costs).

Bottom line: Just under $2 billion per year in savings, if the USDA’s numbers are right.

But what about costs?

The Department estimates that approximately 9 percent of currently-participating SNAP households will lose eligibility for SNAP because
their incomes or resources exceed Federal SNAP eligibility standards (an estimated 1.7 million households in FY 2020, containing 3.1 million individuals).

In addition, the Department estimates that households that remain eligible for SNAP (approximately 17.2 million households containing 34.7 million individuals) and new SNAP applicants will face additional burden associated with the application process, at a cost of approximately $5 million annually.

And all of this is likely to be an underestimation:

While overall about 9 percent of all households currently participating in SNAP will lose eligibility under this proposed rule, households with one or more elderly individual(s) and/or earned income will be disproportionately affected. Approximately 13.2 percent of all SNAP households with elderly members will lose benefits (7.4 percent will fail the income test and 5.8 percent will fail the resource test), as will 12.5 percent of households with earnings (8.6 percent will fail the income test and another 3.9 percent will fail the resource test). Households without children will also be disproportionately affected, with 10.1 percent losing eligibility (approximately 5.5 percent will fail the income test and an additional 4.6 percent will fail the resource test.).

You don’t like this?  File comments.  The deadline is September 23.

HOW TO FILE COMMENTS: Click the Comment button here.

The Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, invites interested persons to submit written comments on this proposed rule. Comments may be submitted in writing by one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: Send comments to Program Design Branch, Program Development Division, Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park Center Dr., Alexandria, VA 22302. Email: Send comments to SNAPPDBRules@usda.gov. Include Docket ID Number [FNS-2018-0037], “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance” in the subject line of the message.
  • All written comments submitted in response to this proposed rule will be included in the record and will be made available to the public. Please be advised that the substance of the comments and the identity of the individuals or entities submitting the comments will be subject to public disclosure. FNS will make the written comments publicly available on the internet via http://www.regulations.gov.
May 15 2019

Online shopping for SNAP participants—the wave of the future?

The USDA recently announced a new pilot program for New York State participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  They will now be able to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to buy foods online.

At first glance, this seems like a terrific idea for solving problems of limited access to healthy foods (“food deserts”), and it gives SNAP participants more options and easier access.   Yes!

But participants will have to pay service or delivery charges with their own money.  For this and other rules, see the SNAP Online Purchasing pilot webpage.  Will they end up paying more or less for foods?  We will have to see how the pilot plays out to know.

At the moment, one clear conclusion is the benefit to Big Retail.  Amazon and ShopRite will run the program in New York City.  Walmart will run it upstate.

Amazon, for example, is promoting this pilot project with a video.

Nevin Cohen, writing in Civil Eats, has the best analysis of this program I’ve seen so far.

For those who have worked for decades to make healthful food available in low-income communities, the pilot has the potential to be a game-changer, enabling them to shift attention from physical access to supermarkets to the economic inequality at the root of food insecurity. But if the SNAP pilot will actually make people healthier, six questions demand attention [his article discusses these in detail]:

1. Does Online Shopping Mean Healthier Choices?

2. Will Shopping at Home Make People Less Active and More Lonely?

3. Will Local Food Retailers be Able to Compete?

4. Will it Be Bad for Worker Health?

5. Will it Increase Environmental Health Problems?

6. Will it Create a Digital Food Divide?

SNAP, Cohen points out

is moving online, whether we like it or not, and ignoring the fact that in a few years some 40 million people will change their grocery shopping habits would be a serious mistake. As the physical barriers to food fall away for SNAP participants, it will be up to policymakers and the public health community to ensure that the food retail sector—virtual as well as brick and mortar—supports healthy diets and true access for all.

 

Dec 26 2018

The Farm Bill did not destroy SNAP, but USDA did an end run on work requirement waivers

As I noted earlier, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill without gutting SNAP but President Trump exacted a price for signing it—making it harder for States to exempt participants from work requirements.

The USDA released its new work-requirement rules just as Congress was passing the bill (here is the USDA’s quick Infographic summary).

As Politico put it, USDA unveils crackdown on SNAP waivers.”

In his Orwellian press release, USDA Secretary Purdue said the new rules are:

intended to move more able-bodied recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to self-sufficiency through the dignity of work. The rule is meant to restore the system to what it was meant to be: assistance through difficult times, not lifelong dependency…Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream.

In an even more Orwellian op-ed, Purdue said:

This restores the dignity of work to a sizeable segment of our population, while it is also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program.

Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That is the commitment behind SNAP. But like other Federal welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life. A central theme of the Trump administration has been to expand prosperity for all Americans, which includes helping people lift themselves out of pervasive poverty.

Trump’s statement outdoes anything Orwell could have imagined:

Today’s action will help Americans transition from welfare to gainful employment, strengthening families and uplifting communities…That was a difficult thing to get done, but the farmers wanted it done. We all wanted it done. I think, in the end, it’s going to make a lot of people very happy.

Why Orwellian?

Farmers?  Strengthening families?  Uplifting communities?  Making people happy?  Trump has to be kidding.

The true purpose of the new requirements is to reduce SNAP enrollment, never mind that most people who participate in SNAP really need it.  The USDA says the new policy will 755,000 people out of the current 39 million.

Under current SNAP rules, adults who can work (able-bodied adults without dependents— ABAWDs) must work or be in training at least 80 hours per month.  Otherwise they are only allowed to get SNAP benefits for up to three months in a three-year period.

But states can apply for waivers of this time limit, and 36 states have done so.

One reality check: Because the USDA does not keep data on food stamp recipients who participate in state employment and training programs, or on whether such programs do anything useful to help SNAP recipients achieve self-sufficiency, there is no way to know whether the new requirements will do any good.

I’m not the only one saying so.  The Government Accountability Office has just issued a report making precisely this point.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:

Taking essential benefits like food benefits away from those who are unemployed wouldn’t address the inequities in the labor market or the challenges that so many workers face. Instead of punishing struggling workers, policymakers should support them through ideas with bipartisan support, such as a higher minimum wage, a stronger Earned Income Tax Credit, and paid family leave.

Maybe someday.

Nov 7 2018

Trump’s “public charge” proposal: just say no

The Trump Administration’s “public charge” proposal is now open for public comment.

This ungenerous and unwelcoming idea is to use participation in benefits for the poor—food assistance programs among them—as a way to deny residency or citizenship to those coming to live or work here.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)…proposes to require all aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule.

Why is DHS doing this?  Ostensibly, because it

seeks to better ensure that applicants for admission to the United States and applicants for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident who are subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility are self-sufficient, i.e., do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their family, sponsor, and private organizations.

What programs constitute a public charge?

  • Any grant, contract, loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States; and
  • Any retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefit, or any other similar benefit for which payments or assistance are provided to an individual, household, or family eligibility unit by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States.

Brilliant move.  It kills two birds with one stone: it discourages immigration, and saves money (those tax cuts for the wealthy make this necessary).

As Jan Poppendieck explains, this proposal revises the promise of the Statue of Liberty to read “don’t give me your tired and your poor.”

The proposal is open for public comment until December 10.

I hope it gets lots.

Oct 16 2018

Connecting the dots: The trade war with China and feeding America’s poor

I was struck last week by an article in the Wall Street Journal with this intriguing title: “Food Banks Reap Unexpected Bounty From Trade Disputes.”

I thought this was an especially poignant example of food politics from a food systems perspective—looking at the big picture context of what we eat, from production to consumption to waste.

Image result for food systems

Our current trade war with China is having a series of effects:

  • China has retaliated by putting import tariffs on US food products, reducing their sales in that country.
  • Because we greatly overproduce food, and depend on exports to sell it, we now have a glut of products that can’t be sold—soybeans mainly, but also pork, apples, cheese, figs, peanut butter, orange juice, and others.
  • The Trump Administration says it will help farmers hurt by the trade dispute by buying their products to the tune of $1.2 billion so far.
  • Food banks have no idea how they can handle all of what will be dumped on them—950 million pounds on top of the 700 million pounds they usually get—because they do not have the money to process and store the donations (one organization says this costs 23 cents per pound of food).
  • The food bank trade association, Feeding America, is calling for $200 to $300 million to pay for distributing the excess burden of food donations.

None of this makes sense to me.

Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better to

  • Prevent or end this trade dispute?
  • Ensure that food banks are unnecessary?