Policy Brief: Proposed Farm Bill Changes Jeopardize Health of Low-Income Families 

Earlier in April, the House Agriculture Committee released its long-awaited draft of the farm bill and voted the bill out of committee on a party-line vote. Unfortunately, as expected, the Committee’s bill would worsen the nutrition and health of millions of low-income Americans. By proposing significant, harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),  Congress would leave behind large numbers of families across the nation. The bill also includes negative changes and cuts to other programs, as we’ll discuss below.

SNAP cuts would eliminate critical support for millions of struggling Americans

SNAP currently helps 1 in 8 Americans put food on the table. Research shows that SNAP benefits are already inadequate, delivering only a modest allotment of approximately $1.40 per person per meal.  We cannot afford to further limit these benefits for the most underserved families. Studies demonstrate that SNAP reduces hunger, lowers healthcare costs, and has a lifelong positive impact on children.

The proposed cuts have far-reaching impacts. Not only will millions of struggling Americans lose access to these vital nutrition benefits, hundreds of thousands of kids will also lose access to free school meals.

Many kids are automatically eligible for free or reduced-price school meals simply because their household participates in SNAP.  For some of these children, school breakfast and lunch are the only full, balanced meals they have access to. We cannot allow our children to go hungry at school or at home.

At FoodCorps, we work every day to connect kids to healthy food in school so that they are well-nourished and ready to learn. Our work teaching hands-on lessons in gardening and cooking, as well as the work of other organizations striving to keep kids healthy and fed, is undermined when our students cannot eat well at home. We oppose these  cuts to SNAP and urge lawmakers to abandon these harmful proposals and focus on policies that will truly improve the health and nutrition of low-income Americans.

Other proposed changes would undermine nutrition and healthy food systems

The House Farm Bill would also make changes to the successful and popular Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) – a program that provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students  in schools whose populations predominantly come from low-income families.  As discussed in this article featuring our own Cecily Upton, co-founder and VP of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, the bill undermines the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program by opening the door to processed food.  These forms of processed fruits and vegetables include canned, dried, frozen, and pureed  without any consideration for nutrition standards.

Poliquin’s proposal opens the door to more processed food that students don’t  need, without any consideration for nutrition standards.

The FFVP is proven to increase consumption of  fresh fruits and veggies, provides strong nutrition education in the classroom, and, for many participants, is their only exposure to fresh produce.  FoodCorps service members use this program as a key tool to expose kids to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.  An evaluation of a pilot program that tested inclusion of processed fruits and veggies found that: fruit and vegetable consumption decreased, variety did not increase, and students and parents preferred fresh.  We believe Congress should reject these proposed changes and keep the program fresh!

Outside of nutrition policy, the House Farm Bill also disappoints.  One of our core values at FoodCorps is that healthy food has healthy roots.  Unfortunately, proposals in the House Farm Bill undermine this value with reductions in funding for, or elimination of, programs that support local/regional food systems, conservation, organic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture.  For much more information on these issues, check out the statement and blog post series from our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (an alliance of which we are a member).

What’s next?

The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the farm bill in the coming weeks, and we’ll keep you posted for advocacy opportunities as a floor vote approaches.

Meanwhile, recent news reports indicate that the Senate is working in a bipartisan fashion to draft their Farm Bill proposal, although the timeline for when that will be released is not certain.

Join our coalition

We are working with a group of advocacy organizations in the anti-hunger, nutrition, environment, and sustainable agriculture fields to enlist a wide variety of groups to sign on to a letter opposing the House Farm Bill.  If your organization is interested in joining, please sign on.

Child Nutrition Wins in the Empire State!

In brighter news, New York Governor Cuomo and the state legislature passed a budget in late March with a number of  wins for school nutrition. As we reported earlier,  Governor Cuomo introduced a “No Student Goes Hungry” package of proposals in December to improve student health in New York.  A number of these proposals were included in the enacted budget that will:

  • provide support for Breakfast After the Bell programs in high-need schools thereby ensuring more kids begin the school day well-nourished and ready to learn
  • address “lunch shaming” by establishing a  policy that makes certain children without money for a meal, or with unpaid school meal debt, are not singled out, provided a lesser meal, or otherwise treated differently
  • expand the Farm to School Program and incentivize the use of farm-fresh, locally grown foods in schools.

The new state budget will make K-12 schools that purchase 30 percent of their lunch ingredients from New York farms eligible to receive a state reimbursement of $0.25 per meal — four times the amount that is currently provided per meal. The 2018-19 State Budget also doubled state funding for Farm to School grants to $1.5 million.

American Farmland Trust led a coalition of groups, including FoodCorps, to advocate on these improvements and issued this press release including a quote from us and other partners on these important investments.