by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: SNAP

Jun 27 2018

Changing SNAP for the better: the politics

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank whose slogan is “Working to find actionable solutions to the nation’s key challenges,” did a study on SNAP: “Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health.”

The report extends and updates the SNAP to Health report I was involved with in 2012.

Like that report, this one recommends making nutrition a priority.

  • Make diet quality a core SNAP objective.
  • Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the list of items that can be purchased with SNAP benefits.
  • Support healthy purchases by continuing and strengthening incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables.
  • Authorize funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a range of evidence-based pilots to improve SNAP participants’ diets.
  • Consolidate USDA authority over the agency’s nutrition standards and nutrition-education efforts.
  • Authorize the USDA to collect and share store-level data on all products purchased with SNAP funds. 7. Strengthen SNAP retailer standards to improve the food environment for all shoppers.

Two of these recommendations jump right into SNAP politics: collecting data and eliminating sugary drinks.

A recent article analyzes issues related to the quality of diets purchased by SNAP participants.  Consistent with previous studies, it finds that the diets consumed by SNAP participants are nutritionally worse than those of people of equivalent low income who are not enrolled in SNAP.   Some evidence suggests that SNAP encourages participants to buy junk food.  It would be good to have better data.

Another recent article explains the politics in no uncertain terms.  Making any change in what SNAP participants can buy with their benefits is blocked by:

  • America’s culture of personal (not social) responsibility
  • Corporate lobbying by the beverage and food retail industries
  • Liberal attitudes defending SNAP as income support for the poor
  • Institutional inertia within USDA and Congress.

These last three constitute what these authors call the “iron triangle” of resistance to changing SNAP for the healthier.  Their advice: try different approaches.

If the Bipartisan Policy Center wants its recommendations followed, it has a lot of work to do.

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Jun 25 2018

Trump’s government reorganization plan: really?

The Trump Administration announced its new plan to reorganize government.  Obviously, this affects the agencies dealing with agriculture, food, and nutrition issues—USDA, FDA, and FDA’s parent agency, HHS.  Here is my translation of the major shifts being proposed:

  • Move most of USDA’s nutrition programs—SNAP, WIC, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program—to HHS.
  • Move FDA’s food safety oversight to USDA, putting USDA in charge of all food safety.
  • Downsize the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Congress would have to vote on all this so there’s no point in going too deeply into the weeds at this point, but I have just a few comments:

  • Putting all food safety oversight in one agency is a good idea, but not if it’s USDA.  USDA’s principal purpose to to support agribusiness.  Holding agribusiness responsible for food safety puts USDA in conflict of interest.
  • Moving SNAP and WIC into HHS (or whatever its new name will be) would make sense if HHS weren’t already overwhelmed by everything else it has to deal with (more than a trillion dollars in spending).
  • The proposal still leaves school breakfasts and lunches and commodity programs in USDA, meaning that food assistance programs will still be split between USDA and HHS.
  • Downsizing the Commissioned Corps doesn’t make much sense either.  Public health needs all the health it can get.

Whatever happens with this is unlikely to happen quickly.  USDA will not be happy about losing SNAP’s $80 billion a year or WIC’s $6 billion budget.

Many other agencies are also affected by these proposals.  My prediction: Congress will have a lot of trouble coming to agreement on these ideas.

Maybe this is just another attempt to distract us from more pressing matters.

Law Professor Timothy Lytton, an expert on food regulatory policy, has plenty to say about why moving food safety to USDA won’t work (in my paraphrasing):

  • Congressional committees are unlikely to support any reorganization that would reduce their power.
  • Industry associations are unlikely to support a reorganization that would disrupt their influence with existing agencies.
  • The two agencies are different in jurisdiction, powers and expertise; a merger would require a complete overhaul of federal food safety laws and regulations, a task of extraordinary legal and political complexity.
  • A merger might create new forms of fragmentation.
  • Reorganization is expensive and will take years.  The payoff is unclear.

As I’ve explained before, plans for a single food safety agency have been in the works for years, but have encountered many barriers.  The Food Safety Modernization Act was meant to be step #1 in a three-step process:

  1. Pass and implement rules governing FDA’s oversight of pretty much all foods except meat and poultry (this is now done).
  2. Fix USDA’s food safety rules governing meat and poultry so they are consistent with FDA’s (in the talking stage, hopefully).
  3. Merge the food safety responsibilities in one agency.

These proposals, alas, ignore step #2.  Good luck with that.

May 1 2018

Amazon and SNAP: a taxpayer-supported alliance

The Intercept published an account last week pointing out that:

  • Amazon will soon accept grocery orders from SNAP (food stamp) participants
  • One third of Amazon employees are paid so little that they depend on SNAP for food
  • Taxpayers also subsidize Amazon with tax breaks, subsidies, and infrastructure improvements

Amazon pays its employeesmedian (half above, half below) annual salary of $28,466.

The New York Times  points out that critics

have produced studies that say Amazon’s warehouses — which employ more than 125,000 full-time workers in the United States — don’t increase total local employment because of losses in other sectors. They also question the wisdom of subsidies to attract them. The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, recently published a similar report on Amazon’s economic impact.

Amazon generated nearly $178 billion in online sales in 2017, its income grew by 27.8%, and it made $3 billion in profit.

Now we know why.

Apr 25 2018

Interim federal spending for food programs

I am just getting to this (better late than never), but in March Congress passed the 2,232-page appropriations bill H.R. 1625 (115).  This continued funding for the federal government until the end of September.

Despite White House calls for deep cuts—this bill gave:

  • USDA and FDA $23.3 billion in discretionary funding, $2.4 billion above current levels.
  • USDA USDA Farm to School Grant Program $5 million
  • Food for Peace ,$1.7 billion
  • Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, $35 million, a 30% increase since last bill
  • USDA Economic Research Service, $86.75 million, above USDA’s request of $77 million.
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service, $1.2 billion, above the $993 million request
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, $400 million, $25 million more than in 2017
  • USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, $981.1 million, $925 million more than current spending.
  • Child nutrition programs (school meals), $24.25 million, $2 million more than current levels.
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), $6.175 billion in discretionary funding over two years
  • Commodity assistance programs (soup kitchens, food banks, farmer’s market nutrition programs and other emergency assistance programs), $322.1 million over two years, and above current $313 million

But then there’s SNAP, where the real money is: $74.01 billion.  This is a $4 billion cut from current levels, and “subject to any work registration or workfare requirements as may be required by law.”

Except for SNAP, these look good for the next few months.

But the Farm Bill can change all this and we have yet to see what Congress will do about it.

And, according to Politico, the White House is expected to ask for up to $60 billion in cuts.

Start lobbying now.

 

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Apr 16 2018

Recommendations for improving SNAP

While the farm bill is in play, it’s worth looking at what The Bipartisan Policy Center has to say about SNAP:

It provides evidence for a long list of recommendations for improving SNAP, among them:

  • Make diet quality a core SNAP objective
  • Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from SNAP eligibility
  • Provide incentives for purchases of fruits and vegetables
  • Authorize USDA to collect and share data on SNAP purchases

It also has recommendations for improving education of SNAP recipients, and no wonder.

This is an excellent follow-up to the 2012 SNAP to Health initiative in which I participated.  That report made similar recommendations.

Maybe now is the time?

Dec 6 2017

Orwell-speak from USDA: new SNAP rules

The USDA, straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, has promised “new SNAP flexibilities to promote self-sufficiency.”

What does USDA mean by “flexibilities”?  Here are its exact words (I put the key words in quotes and in bold for emphasis:

  • “Self-Sufficiency” – The American dream has never been to live on government benefits. People who can work, should work. We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent, specifically by partnering with key stakeholders in the workforce development community and holding our recipients accountable for personal responsibility.
  • “Integrity” – We must ensure our programs are run with the utmost integrity. We will not tolerate waste, fraud, or abuse from those who seek to undermine our mission or who do not take their responsibility seriously.
  • “Customer Service” – Together, we must ensure that our programs serve SNAP participants well. In order to achieve a high degree of customer service, we at FNS must also provide States the flexibility to test new and better ways to administer our programs, recognizing that we are all accountable to the American taxpayer for the outcomes.

Why the quotes?  Because the words mean anything but what they say.  Hence: Orwellian.

This is the USDA’s first attack on SNAP.  Prediction: more to come.

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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.