SNAP and the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer

Posted on by Vanessa Hoffman MPH, RD

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry recently approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, also known as the Farm Bill. Because the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, accounts for the lion’s share of this bill’s budget, representing about two-thirds of 2008 Farm Bill spending, innovation in SNAP could have a tremendous impact in improving the nutritional status of its participants. Last year over 45 million people were enrolled in the program, which combats hunger by providing a monthly benefit to low-income households to purchase food.

I am a health policy fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that is conducting an initiative, SNAP to Health, that seeks to identify barriers, best practices and innovations for improving nutrition for the 1 in 7 low-income Americans enrolled in SNAP and provide policy recommendations for the 2012 Farm Bill. The initiative includes a comprehensive scientific literature review on SNAP, qualitative research with interviews with experts in academia, public health, food industry and government, a web-based survey of over 500 program stakeholders, and an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) examining the dietary intake of children ages 4 to19 years participating in SNAP compared to low-income nonparticipants. The findings of this research will inform policy recommendations. The initiative also features a website,  to serve as a virtual town hall for public discourse on improving nutrition in SNAP.

Using the Center for a Livable Future’s (CLF) Farm Bill Budget Visualizer as a lens to look at the Farm Bill and SNAP, I compared the roles and funding levels of nutrition-related programs encompassed in the Farm Bill. Below is an outline of the programs related to nutrition in the Farm Bill organized by the USDA agency with the funding level budgeted for FY2012. Click here for more information about methods CLF used in determining program budgets.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ($73 billion): SNAP is the USDA’s largest food assistance program, which provides a safety net for low-income individuals and families to meet nutritional needs. The program aims to address hunger by increasing resources available to low-income households to purchase food. The 2008 Farm Bill also included $20 million for a pilot project to provide incentives for fruit and vegetable intake, which is now underway as the Healthy Incentives Pilot in Massachusetts. Click here for more information about SNAP.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) ($177 million): This program provides monthly food assistance targeted to low-income seniors. While over 90 percent of participants are seniors over age 60, the program also serves a small number of women, infants and children up to age six, living at or below 185 percent of federal poverty level, similar to the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Individuals cannot participate in both CSFP and WIC at the same time.
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) ($50 million): With this program the USDA makes commodity foods available to states to distribute to emergency food providers including food banks, pantries, kitchens, and shelters. TEFAP provides about 25 percent of the food in Feeding America’s national network of food banks. (Ann Goodman, Congressional testimony).
  • Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program ($21 million): This program provides grants to states to provide coupons to low-income elderly individuals to use at farmers’ markets.
  • Emergency Food Program Infrastructure Grants (No current funding): This provides competitive grants to improve infrastructure needs of emergency feeding programs.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

  • Research and Education Activities: ($708 million): This includes intramural and extramural research grants, analysis and education on many issues, including nutrition.
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) ($325 million): This initiative provides funding for education and competitive grants related to many topics in food and agricultural research including food safety, nutrition and health.
  • Smith-Lever ($283 million): Stemming from the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, this program provides funds for cooperative extension activities including nutrition education for low- income individuals.
  • Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) ($68 million): A program designed to provide nutrition education to low-income youth and adults.
  • Community Food Projects ($5 million): This program provides grants to help communities fight food insecurity by promoting local food systems and self-sufficiency.
  • Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development Center (HUFED): (No current funding, although $1 million estimated in 2011): This center promotes access to healthy, affordable food for underserved communities. The center awards subgrants to study feasibility and assist organizations providing healthy, affordable foods.

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

  • Farmers Market Promotion Program ($10 million): This program provides grants for farmer-to-consumer direct marketing, including the ability to use the funding for mobile card readers to support use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card use to allow individuals to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets.
  • Section 32 ($1.08 million): This program stems from Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935, authorizing funding equal to 30 percent of annual U.S. Customs receipts. Most of the funding goes to support the National School Lunch Act. The USDA Secretary has discretion for how to spend the remaining funds. This program also includes funding for the Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh Program and the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to schools.

Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)

  • Local and Regional Community Procurement Pilot Program (No current funding): This program allows institutions to use geographic preference in procuring food for programs funded under the National School Lunch Act, Child Nutrition Act and DoD Fresh Program.

Programs supported by the Farm Bill vary dramatically in size and scope from the $73 billion budgeted for SNAP to $5 million for Community Food Projects which aim to fight food insecurity through self-sufficiency and strengthening local food systems. For example, the Farmer’s Market Promotion Program’s budget is only $10 million, but these program funds can also be used for initiatives such as those to ensure that a farmer’s market can accept EBT cards so individuals can use SNAP benefits at these venues. Even smaller programs provide significant opportunities for improving America’s nutrition and health.

The Farm Bill, which is reauthorized approximately every five years, most recently as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, covers programs in many areas including those related to crop insurance, commodity price supports, rural development, nutrition assistance, renewable energy, and food and agriculture research. The bill determines the funding and composition of many programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Due to its size and scope, it can be challenging to know everything about the Farm Bill, but using the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer allows for understanding and comparing programs and funding.

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