House Threatens Nutrition Cuts Again

Nutrition

Earlier this week, The United States of House of Representatives introduced a standalone nutrition bill to reauthorize programs that are a part of legislation that is commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. This legislation, The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102), impacts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The Supplemental Nutrition Education Program (SNAP-Ed), and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).

The House of Representatives failed to pass a full version of its Farm Bill, The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 in July. The FARRM proposal originally contained proposals for cuts of over $20.5 billion over 10 years to nutrition programs and changed FFVP to allow items other than fresh fruits and vegetables to be served in the program. The House of Representatives currently has passed a version of a farm bill that does not contain reauthorization for nutrition programs.

The House of Representatives is expected to take up legislation that focuses only on the nutrition programs today. First Focus Campaign for Children has issued a letter urging Members of Congress to vote against The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 because of the impacts it will have on the ability of low income families to feed their children.

The original House proposal’s $20.5 billion in cuts are included in this week’s release of H.R. 3102. These proposals restrict a states’ ability to use important program simplification that reduces paperwork burdens in determining household benefit levels. Based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, this change, commonly referred to as “Heat and Eat,” would reduce benefits for about 850,000 households which include 1.7 million people. The households’ benefits would be cut by an estimated $90 a month. Over 20 million children receive SNAP benefits each month, and this cut has the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of children even when the family has high rent costs that include utilities.

Another change that is proposed is to broad based or expanded categorical eligibility and would mean that as many as 1.8 million people could lose benefits. This change would impact mostly low-income working families and low-income seniors, who have gross incomes or assets modestly above the federal SNAP limits but disposable income (the income that a family actually has available to spend on food) below the poverty line. Since nearly half of all SNAP recipients are children this would impact children’s access to food and CBO estimates that some 210,000 children in these families would also lose access to free school meals. Leading these children to lose access to food both at home and school.

In addition, the SNAP-Ed program which educates parents and kids on how to eat healthy on a limited budget would be cut by over $300 million over 10 years. Jeopardizing the nutrition education that children get in places such as school.

These above cuts are paired with nearly $20 billion in additional cuts. Most of the further cuts will impact single adults with no dependents that struggle to find jobs. Some additional cuts to the program could take place by incentivizing state agencies to apply work requirement to individuals, including parents of young children. States could require 20 hours of work activities per week from any able-bodied adult with a child over the age of 1 if child care is available, and for all parents whose children are over age 6 and attending school. Although states do not have to take up this requirement, states will be pressured to do so because they will receive 50 percent of any cost savings that result in implementing this policy in their state. This is under the guise that states will need assistance to help engage participants in work and work training, but the additional funding that states will receive does not need to be reinvested in to work training or nutrition programs. If states do not implement the above work requirements they will lose federal money for their existing work training programs.

In addition to cuts, H.R. 3102 continues to contain language that allows other items besides fresh fruits and vegetables to be served in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. This change opens the program up to additional items that could be high in sugar and calories and thus taking away the current structure of the FFVP program which provides a healthy snack to low income children without increasing a child’s daily calorie intake. The legislation also allows states to drug test any member of household, including young children. The legislation also makes it so that if a family is living with a rehabilitated ex offender, that ex offender will not be taken into account regarding the household size, but the rehabilitated individual’s income will go towards the household’s total income therefore possibly decreasing the benefits that children living in that home may receive.

The proposed cuts that some in the House of Representatives are supporting would be on top of cuts that families who receive SNAP are already facing starting November 1, 2013. Congress responded to the recession by increasing monthly SNAP benefits in 2009, responding to increased need and providing an economic stimulus. Currently SNAP households with children receive an average per-person benefit of $129 per month, or $1.43 per person per meal. When current law expiries later this year, a family of four will see their benefits reduced by nearly $40 dollars a month, which is over $400 over a course of a year. For very low income families struggling to make ends meet, this will have a profound impact on parents’ ability to feed their children.

The Senate has passed its version of the Farm Bill, The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954). This legislation was passed in the Senate in June with bipartisan support. The Senate has named conferees that will begin to conference on the Farm Bill legislation once the House of Representatives name its conferees. The current version of the Farm Bill was extended for the second time in January and will expire on September 30, 2013, leaving Congress a short amount of time to complete its work.