Senate Farm Bill Passes

Nutrition

Every five years the United States Congress is tasked with reauthorizing legislation that is commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill.” This legislation reauthorizes child nutrition initiatives, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program), The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and SNAP Nutrition Education (also referred to as SNAP-Ed or the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention grant program). Last year Congress was unable to complete work on a Farm Bill and is currently operating under an extension of the last Farm Bill that is set to expire on September 30, 2013.

Tonight, the United States Senate passed their version of a Farm Bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954). This legislation cuts SNAP by slightly more than $4 billion over 10 years, while the U.S. House of Representatives’ current version of the Farm Bill cuts SNAP by $20.5 billion over the same timeframe. With nearly half of SNAP funding going to feed hungry kids any SNAP cuts will impact kids, but the House Farm Bill’s larger cuts would have far greater impacts.

Although the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 cuts SNAP by 4.1 billion over 10 years the legislation protects the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program which ensures that low-income elementary students have access to a fresh fruit or vegetable snack at school. In addition, the legislation protects investments in SNAP Education which helps low-income Americans make healthy choices on a limited budget. The funding helps local schools’ efforts to inform kids about healthy food choices and the benefits of healthy eating. In addition, SNAP- Ed helps parents learn how to buy and prepare healthy foods and get the most nutritional value for every SNAP dollar.

During the Farm Bill floor process the Senate voted down an amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to restore the $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP that are included in S. 954. This amendment would have offset the SNAP cut by reforming the federal crop insurance agribusiness subsidy program and would have kept children from losing SNAP benefits.

The Senate also rejected two amendments that would have significantly weakened efforts to combat child hunger. One, an amendment by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), would have cut and capped the SNAP program through converting the program into a block grant. Under such a proposal, annual congressional appropriations funding would have determined whether SNAP would be able to meet hungry children’s needs rather than allowing the federal government to help all children who are in need and eligible. A SNAP block grant would also eliminate state and local governments’ abilities and flexibility in responding to natural disasters, economic downturns, or other emergencies that would threaten to increase child hunger.

Another amendment, by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), would have increased SNAP cuts in the underlying bill by completely eliminating the connection between the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program and the SNAP Standard Utility Allowance (commonly referred to as “Heat and Eat”) and restricting categorical eligibility to the SNAP program for recipients that receive only cash benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Heat and Eat and categorical eligibility allow states to enroll eligible recipients without further paperwork burden when participants are enrolled and eligible for other programs that assist low income families. The amendment also would have eliminated the SNAP-Ed program. With millions of families struggling to make ends meet, cuts to these important programs would have only made it harder for families to afford a nutritious diet and would have further increased the demand on charitable feeding operations.

The Farm Bill debate stalled last year, when the Senate passed its version of the legislation, but the House failed to pass its own. The United State House of Representatives’ version of the Farm Bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947), is expected to reach the House floor sometime next week and was passed by the U. S. House Committee on Agriculture on May 15, 2013. The House Farm Bill further cuts SNAP and allows items other than fresh fruits and vegetables to be served in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

The child nutrition programs that are set to be reauthorized through the Farm Bill process are critical in order to protect against hunger; improve nutrition and health outcomes among vulnerable populations, and have an important role in increasing access to healthy food though community-based initiatives. Now more than ever, these programs are a critical resources for vulnerable families and children.