by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-assistance

Jan 5 2024

Weekend reading: Equitable access to USDA’s food assistance programs

I was guest editor for a supplement to the American Journal of Public Health: Policies and Strategies to Increase Equitable Access to Family Nutrition.

It is open access so you can access it here.

I wrote the lead editorial: Equitable Access to the USDA’s Food Assistance Programs: Policies Needed to Reduce Barriers and Increase Accessibility.  113(S3)pp. S167–S170.  

This special supplement to AJPH deals with a critically important topic: enabling and increasing access to federal nutrition assistance programs among low-income Americans who are eligible for these programs but unaware, unable, or unwilling to participate in them. To help identify the barriers to nonparticipation and to recommend policies to reduce them, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded research projects aimed at these goals, especially as they pertain to families with young children.  PDF/EPUB

Editor’s choice


Notes from the field

Research articles

Nov 1 2023

Household food insecurity—bad news

How’s this for bad, but not unexpected, news: household food insecurity is up again. 

It’s especially up among households with children.

And it’s the worst in years.

Food insecurity declined during the pandemic because the USDA increased benefits and waived some restrictions to enable easier access.

Guess what: if you make sure people have the resources they need, their food insecurity declines.

If you reduce benefits, as Congress did when it declined to continue the pandemic benefits, food insecurity increases—and sharply, given what inflation is doing to food prices.

How’s this for evidence for the clear effects of good public policy followed by bad.

The remedy here is simple: restore the pandemc benefits.

Sep 8 2023

Weekend reading: The Politics of SNAP

Christopher Bosso.  Why SNAP Works: A Political History—and Defense—of the Food Stamp Program.  University of California Press,  2023. 

I did a blurb for this book:

Why SNAP Works is a lively, up-to-the-minute account of the history of thie program formerly known as Food Stamps, and contested from its onset.  Bosso’s compelling explanation of the reasons SNAP survived—and deserves to–in the face of so much opposition, makes his book a must read.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, not least because Bosso is such an entertaining writer.

The book makes a strong case for his take-home message::

Yes, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can be better.  But without it, millions of Americans would be worse off.  And if that sounds like faint praise, so be it.  The paradox of want among plenty has not disappeared.  Short of a system solution to poverty—the root cause of food insecurity—and in a land of so much food, often bordering on the obscene, SNAP at least ensures that all Americans get a better chance at a decent diet, a minimum element for a decent life, without sacrificing all personal autonomy and pride.

At a time when the Farm Bill is up for renewal and SNAP is under siege (again), the is book could not be more timely.

I hope everyone in Congress gets a copy and reads it.

Hey, I can dream.

Aug 22 2023

The proposed SNAP Nutrition Security Act of 2023

Several readers have asked me to comment on legislative proposals to refocus SNAP on nutrition quality.

Their requests were triggered by an editorial in The Hill,  America’s food program for the poor should focus on nutrition, by two former USDA Secretaries, Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman, who co-chair the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force.

They have several suggestions for improving SNAP:

To start, they should make diet quality a core, statutory focus of SNAP. Legislation from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — the SNAP Nutrition Security Act of 2023 — would not only provide a statutory focus on nutrition within SNAP but craft a robust data collection strategy to identify opportunities to improve nutrition in the program.

The Booker/Rubio bill is clear about its purpose:

Food programs administered by the Department of Agriculture  should simultaneously combat food insufficiency and diet related chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, which cause immense suffering, significantly increase already high health care spending, increase poverty, and undermine military readiness.

The bill calls for a report from the USDA Secretary that includes:

  • An analysis of the food and nutrition security of participants and non-participants in SNAP
  • Changes in SNAP aimed at improving food and nutrition security and diet quality
  • An analysis of the effectiveness of those changes
  • Recommendations for additional authority for the USDA Secretary to improve food and nutrition security and diet quality.

The core of this bill is store-level data collection.

The bill authorizes the USDA to study “the specific food items acquired with [SNAP] benefits by eligible households.”

Good idea, and about time too.  I was on the SNAP to Health commission which made similar recommendations in 2012.

I hope Congress passes it.  Here are the organizations that endorse the bill so far (as of July 14, 2023).

For the record: if we were starting from scratch on poverty reduction, my strong preference is for income support, not SNAP.  It worked splendedly during the pandemic.

Given that SNAP is what we’ve got, my preference is for the WIC model, or would be if all of these questions weren’t so politicized.


Aug 18 2023

Weekend reading: USDA’s food assistance programs

I find it hard to keep up with everything USDA is doing in food assistance, because its programs go way beyond SNAP.  Every now and then, the USDA sends an update via email.

General Overview of Food Assistance and Nutrition Programs

USDA’s domestic food and nutrition assistance programs affect the daily lives of millions of people, with about one in four U.S. residents participating in at least one food assistance program at some point during a typical year.

Expenditures for food and nutrition assistance account for more than two-thirds of USDA’s budget.

USDA food and nutrition assistance programs, costs and participation, fiscal year 2022

USDA expenditures on food assistance programs, fiscal years 1970–2022

You may also be interested in charts on:

The point: This is a huge amount of money.  These programs demonstrably relieve poverty, but are not nearly enough to solve it.  And the amounts are large enough to constitute a target for budget cutters, regardless of consequences.

Most of the attention focuses on SNAP, the most expensive program.  To the extent that the others stay off budget cutters radar, they can do plenty of good.

And these are basically what’s left of the safety net for the poor (except for the Earned Income Tax Credit).

These help, but not nearly enough.

Apr 18 2023

A warning: COVID benefits are ending and their loss will hurt

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service sent out one of the saddest emailed notices I have ever received, announcing the end of relief measures enacted during the COVID-19 emergency.

The FNS says it is working closely with participants, States, retailers, other federal agencies, and the White House to help with the transition.

This will not be easy.  The COVID-induced increases in benefits did much to reduce family and child poverty as well as food insecurity.

What follows is slightly edited, mainly to reduce repetitive statements.

End of the National COVID-19 Public Health Emergency – Impact on FNS Programs. 

The national public health emergency (PHE) put in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to expire on May 11, 2023. The end of the public health emergency…will trigger changes that impact low-income individuals and families.

  • SNAP Emergency Allotments: The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, required that pandemic-related SNAP Emergency Allotments (EA) be terminated after the issuance of February 2023 benefits.  See: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • SNAP ABAWD Time Limit: Beginning July 1, 2023, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) participating in SNAP will once again be required to meet the ABAWD work requirements or could risk losing benefits as soon as October 2023.
  • Temporary Student Exemptions:  Beginning July 1, 2023, the temporary student exemptions – which allowed college students who wouldn’t typically be eligible for SNAP to receive benefits during the public health emergency – will begin to be phased out, impacting students as they are due for recertification.
  • SNAP Administrative Adjustments and Waivers:  FNS is working very closely with States to help them successfully transition back to normal operations, including offering four certification-related waivers specifically designed to support the transition to post-pandemic program operations.
  • Child Nutrition Programs: FNS offered States and child nutrition program operators extensive flexibilities during COVID to ensure they could continue to serve kids the nutrition they needed. Two of the flexibilities currently offered – CACFP benefits for young adults in shelters and offsite monitoring – are tied to the PHE and, therefore, will be coming to an end. See: Child Nutrition Programs
  • Pandemic EBT: Since March 2020, Pandemic EBT, also known as P-EBT, has been helping eligible families cover food costs for kids who typically received free and reduced-priced school meals or were eligible through their child care facilities. These benefits will continue through the end of summer 2023 for school children, but will end when the PHE ends on May 11, 2023, for children in child care. The new nationwide Summer EBT program recently passed into law will be available starting in summer 2024, and will help families in need continue to put food on the table during the summer when children aren’t receiving meals in schools. See: Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT)  
  • WIC: After the end of the public health emergency, most of the flexibilities FNS provided to WIC participants during the pandemic will continue to be available under a separate authority Congress provided FNS in the American Rescue Plan Act. With this authority, WIC state agencies can continue to offer – and build and improve upon – remote services after the PHE ends. Infant formula waivers, which are not tied to the PHE, will be phased out on a different timeline through the end of June 2023.  See:  Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Additional information is available on the FNS website, here.

Comment: I consider this a national tragedy, and a huge mistake.  If COVID-19 proved anything, it was that these measures were highly effective in reducing child poverty in the United States.  Now what.  We go back to higher levels?  As I said, a national tragedy.

Congress will have much to answer for when the results of this shameful decision become to be apparent.

Mar 29 2023

The Farm Bill: transform its focus to food, not feed or fuel

Today, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is introducing the Food and Farm Act of 2023.  A summary of the bill is here.

This legislation is a comprehensive, alternative Farm Bill that advances four principles of agricultural reform:

(1) focusing resources on those who need it most;

(2) fostering innovation;

(3) encouraging investments in people and the planet; and

(4) ensuring access to healthy foods.

His bill has much to recommend it.  I gave it a blurb:

It’s great that Congressman Blumenauer wants to “shift the Farm Bill.”  The current Farm Bill focuses on producing feed for animals and fuel for cars.  It’s time to transform it to support policies that promote food for people and sustainable production practices.  Blumenauer’s Bill is a great step in that direction and is worth all our support.”

I also like Senator Cory Booker’s analysis.  He tweeted:

Right now, our dietary guidelines tell us that 50% of the food we eat should be fruits and vegetables – but less than 10% of our Farm Bill subsidies currently go to fruits and vegetables. The 2023 Farm bill will be an important opportunity to change this.

He explains all this in a 30-second video.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also has a video (4-minutes) as part of its primer on the Farm Bill.

Farm Bill Basics


Its pie chart explains the politics .










The Farm Bill is a shotgun wedding between supports for Big Agriculture and SNAP—the green three-quarters of the pie.  There aren’t enough votes to do either, so President Johnson’s brilliant logroll is still necessary.

Republicans want spending on nutrition to decline, and fast, and are insisting on work requirements which, if passed, would undoubtedly decrease rolls (and greatly increase poverty).

We are still at the beginning of this Farm Bill round.  Stay tuned.


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Feb 21 2023

Where are we on SNAP? In play, as always.

Here’s what’s going on.

SNAP costs are high

Even with the reduction, this is an expensive program and it’s no surprise that Republicans want to cut it.

SNAP is under constant criticism and not only because of cost.  Advocates want it to do a better job of promoting nutrition and health, as shown in two recent reports.

Advocacy Report #1.  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as a health intervention (by Jerry Mande and Grace Flaherty)

After reviewing the evidence on SNAP’s impacts on food insecurity, dietary quality, and health as well as research on the health impacts of other more successful federal food assistance programs, we provide three policy recommendations to strengthen SNAP’s effectiveness as a health intervention for children and families.

These are:

  • Make diet quality a core SNAP objective.
  • Srengthen requirements for SNAP-authorized retailers to promote healthier retail food environments.
  • Pair incentives for purchasing fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods with restrictions on unhealthy foods and sweetened 2beverages.

Advocacy Report #2.  Making Food and Nutrition Security a SNAP: Recommendations for the 2023 Farm Bill (from the  Bipartisan Policy Center’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force.

Some of its major recommendations:

  • Make sure benefit levels are adequate to achieve healthy diets.
  • Make sure eligibility and work requirements do not preent undue barriers to participation.
  • Encourage consumption of nutritious foods through existing and demonstration projects.

If I read this right, “demonstration projects” is a euphemism for not permitting sugar-sweetened beverages to be purchased with SNAP benefits.

Who knows how all this will play out.  I’ve just read the manuscript of a history of SNAP arguing that SNAP is bullet-proof because it solves a major societal problem and because it is inextricably linked to agricultural supports in the Farm Bill.  Look for the book when it comes out (I will certainly post it as a Weekend Reading):  Christopher Bosso.  Why SNAP Works: A Political History—and Defense—of the Food Stamp Program.  University of California Press,  2023.
And my contribution to this particular cause is here.


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