2018 Farm Bill Public Policy Position Statement Analysis

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23/09/19 Social Policy Reference this

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Public Policy Position Statement Analysis

The 2018 Farm Bill Public Policy Position Statement Analysis

House of Representatives and Senate Proposals to the Restructuring of SNAP

1) Introduction

Food insecurity is the disruption of food intake or eating patterns due to a lack of money and other resources.1 Food insecurity is a nationwide problem. No one reason is to blame for this prevalent issue, as a number of factors limit Americans from eating well. These factors include stagnant wages, increasing healthcare costs, exhausted soils by turning crops produced into biofuels, a controlling food market, inflation of income disparity, and our population’s fast-paced culture. In addition, high unemployment rates only make it more difficult to fulfill basic household needs. Because of this problem, many nutrition assistance programs work towards preventing the prevalence of food insecurity. Many of these governmentally funded nutrition assistance programs, among other food-related topics, fall under the jurisdiction of the Farm Bill and the US Department of Agriculture. The Farm Bill is a set of principles passed about every five years connecting the food on our plates, to the production of food, to the natural resources that make growing our food possible. The Farm Bill covers many US Department of Agriculture programs including crop insurance, conservation programs, food safety, and food access for low-income families such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps.

More specifically, the bill that passed in December of 2018 instituted many policies. Some of these policies include the National Accuracy Clearinghouse(NAC), which prevents consumers from receiving SNAP benefits in multiple states.2 These savings from the changes made in the farm bill will go back into food banks and other nutrition assistance programs, ultimately saving the government money. The bill also extends farm subsidies to nieces, nephews, and first cousins of farmers, even if they do not actively participate in work on the farm to stimulate productivity and encourage more people to be involved in farming. In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill provides permanent funding for farmers’ markets and local food programs, including promotional funds and research funds. The Conservation Stewardship Program, the largest conservation program in the United States, which aids farmers in enhancing their natural resources and strengthening their organization, will also pass in the final version of the Farm Bill. Lastly, the bill aids in legalizing the production of hemp, a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, for industrial uses and job stimulation.3

However, among all of these programs, SNAP receives the largest portion of funding in the farm bill, as more than 40 million Americans receive an average of over $127 a month in nutritional assistance to help reduce the occurrence of food insecurity.4 Currently, SNAP provides approximately $70 billion annually to support food purchases by low-income households, supporting approximately 1 in 7 Americans.5 The House passed a version of the bill that proposes major restructuring and stringent requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) in order for them to receive benefits from SNAP. This proposal implied that stricter rules will affect ABAWDs from ages 18-49, who will receive only three-months of SNAP benefits in three years unless they meet a work requirement of 80 hours per month.6 The Senate passed a version of the bill without these strict work requirements. The final version of the Farm Bill did not include any of the proposed changes to the original structure of SNAP. While the final bill does include changes, none will restrict low-income families from redeeming SNAP benefits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics seeks to ensure access to safe food to improve the health of Americans, and to eliminate food insecurity. The Academy opposes making changes to the current structure of SNAP, but it does support providing families with the resources they need to make healthful food choices. This topic was by far the most controversial of the farm bill thus far.

2) Policy Rationale

Throughout this process, the 2018 Farm Bill has gained both critics and advocates. Many people feel as though consumers benefiting from programs such as SNAP are abusing their government-provided privileges. One line in the House proposal suggested a promise to protect American taxpayers by reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in food and nutrition programs.7 However, one must note that SNAP beneficiaries are already following general work requirements. These apply to people 16-59 years of age, who are fit for employment and do not care for a child under the age of 6. These individuals must register for work, accept a job if offered, and participate in a SNAP Education and Training program. They may not voluntarily quit a job, and the requirements prohibit them from reducing work hours to less than 30 hours per week.8 Because of these current work requirements, many other people feel as though low-income individuals benefiting from SNAP are already following strict guidelines in order to qualify for the opportunity to have safe access to food and avoid under nutrition, malnutrition, and many side effects associated with poor nutrition, including such chronic diseases as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many people have raised concerns, and estimate that up to 2 million current SNAP recipients could either lose their benefits or eligibility to the program altogether under this House-proposed policy.9

In addition to this, many critics focus on providing income support to farmers that cultivate the food systems large commodities. These commodities include corn, soybeans, cotton, rice, wheat, sugar, peanuts, as well as dairy products. Advocates say that this promotion of large commodity production is influencing the public by promoting unhealthy eating. Many people believe that generating large amounts of these processed foods, cause deflation of prices to consumers, therefore instigating participants to spend their money, or SNAP benefits, on heavily subsidized corn and soybeans.10

Another proposal made for the 2018 Farm Bill is to convert SNAP to a block grant system.11 Currently, SNAP is a mandatory entitlement program, which allows benefits for all households that are eligible, and allows flexibility for fluctuating economic conditions. Changing SNAP to a block grant program would cap spending, allowing each state a fixed amount even during downturns of the economy. Many people who seek to preserve the federal budget, or feel as though SNAP beneficiaries rely too heavily on the government, may support the institution of the block grant system. Others who feel strongly about the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity may disagree.11

In relation to government spending, some advocates of the Farm Bill have proposed increasing the maximum SNAP benefit. Many people feel as though this is one step closer to bridging the gap for food insecure individuals, while others feel that this will only increase the amount of government spending.

Lastly, increasing funds for food distribution programs is a debated topic in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), currently the largest food distribution program, is a federal program that aims to help supplement the diets of low-income Americans, by providing emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.12 Many individuals’ feel strongly about increasing the funding allotted for programs like these. Another major change made under the 2014 Farm Bill restricted The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which supplements seniors, women, infants and children with nutritious USDA Foods in their diets, by eliminating eligibility for this population of people in order to eliminate government expense.13 Many people have disagreed with this change and recommend providing additional funding for these programs so that they can continue to assist those in need and therefore provide food security.11 The recent trend in food security and related increasing health status of low-income Americans may be threatened by recent demands to government expenditures in the 2018 Farm Bill.14

 

3) Policy Impact on Nutrition and Dietetics

 

The Farm Bill directly impacts the nutrition and dietetics profession by playing an important role in reducing food insecurity, improving individual’s access to healthy food, and acknowledging the connection between food insecurity and adverse health outcomes. Nutrition professionals’ primary goal is to ensure adequate, healthful foods that promote longevity and contribute to the population’s overall well being, and to provide the tools and resources to help this population make conscious efforts to control their health. Food insecurity can have a great impact on an individual’s dietary intake, an important aspect of the dietetics practice. It is shown that people of this population tend to spend money on foods that are both inexpensive and nutritionally inadequate, which may be contributing to the rise of malnutrition and prevalence of chronic disease. Food insecurity is also associated with inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables.15

Mozaffarian et al conducted a research study aimed at estimating the health impact, program and healthcare costs, and cost-effectiveness of food incentives, disincentives, or restrictions in SNAP. After evaluating 3 different incentive/dicentive approaches to potential snap revisions in the 2018 farm bill, regarding fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, plant based oils, junk food, and processed meats, the simulation estimates that the combined incentive/decentive program produced the largest health gains and reduced healthcare and food costs, with net savings of $63.33 billion over a lifetime, concluding that emphasizing healthier eating through SNAP could benefit participants’ health in the long run.5 These findings support the need to pilot these SNAP interventions in different state programs, and emphasize the impact that the Farm Bill is instituting by supporting nutrition assistant programs for consumers through funding .

 Additionally, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program (FINI) was brought to action to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP participants by offering incentives, such as coupons, gift cards, and loyalty cards in the 2014 Farm Bill. Despite the effort to restructure SNAP, the 2018 farm bill preserved programs like these to help eliminate food insecurity.16 In 2018, interviews with FINI grantees revealed that the implementation of FINI programs led to an increase in sales of produce for farmers, an increase in sales of produce in local grocery stores, and improved dietary intake in consumers using FINI.16

Finally, more than just efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, SNAP-Ed is a federally funded program that also falls under the Farm Bill, to better implement evidence-based nutrition education and policy changes. Nutrition education is a huge facet of the dietetics profession. As a result of SNAP-Ed programs, 90% of adult participants surveyed increased nutrition knowledge, and 80% intended to adopt a healthy eating pattern.17 The Academy makes it clear that they do not support the reorganization of SNAP’s current structure. SNAP benefits all age groups, from pregnant mothers to infants, children, adults, and the older adult population by stimulating job creation and reducing the gap between nutrition education and food insecurity.Nutrition and dietetic professionals are distinctively positioned to address food disparity within the food system. Nutrition professionals can also facilitate resources, provide education, and legitimize individuals impacted by food insecurity. Specifically, nutrition professionals can help those affected by food insecurity with the ability to gain access to and connect with various programs and social services aimed at improving food and nutrition security.

The Academy feels as though it is the responsibility of nutrition and dietetics professionals to provide intervention and achieve food security. Adverse effects related to food insecurity are worth fighting for now. Because of this, the Academy chose its position to stand for the original structure of SNAP and to support increased funding for nutrition assistance programs, as well as education programs that help close the gap between low-income individuals and the lack of food.18 Many reasons impact the Academy to support their decision. Literature shows that nearly 80% of the recipients of nutrition assistance programs purchase unhealthy food in order to stretch their budget for the week.15 The buying of less nutrient-dense foods, and more calorically dense foods, lead to adverse health and developmental outcomes in children, those that nutrition professionals would like to avoid. Many of these outcomes include obesity, nutrient deficiency, malnutrition, and an increased risk for chronic disease. In adults, food insecurity may lead to the risk of chronic disease, but also the risk of disability later in life, as well as physical and emotional health. Not only would efforts towards eliminating food insecurity have an impact on individual’s health outcomes, but also addressing this issue earlier on can result in major savings by eliminating healthcare costs. With all of this said, the Academy’s position to maintain the current SNAP structure and to promote more funding for these programs is relevant to their passion for eliminating food insecurity.15

4) Policy Impact On groups and Individuals

 

 The 2018 farm bill impacts all consumers of food, as well as the producers of food. While the Farm Bill may seem irrelevant to Americans’ everyday lives, it serves a greater purpose than most may think. The Farm Bill has stimulated job opportunity for people without jobs, as well as created a more desirable market for food producers by bringing a wider spectrum of consumers. While the Farm Bill has greatly impacted the average American, more specifically the bill affects those that come from low-income families. Because the government is continuing to put money into nutrition assistance programs, these individuals will be empowered to have safe access to food and prevent the adverse effects of food insecurity. If the bill had passed at the House level, food insecurity would only become a more prevalent issue. There were 15 million (11.8 percent) food-insecure households in 2017, down from 15.6 million (12.3 percent) in 2016.19  However, despite the recent downward trend of food insecurity with the implementation of more stringent work requirements, as well as the removal of waivers to support nutrition assistance programs, people in need of access to food would only be further away from a solution to this problem. The number of food insecure households is only declining because of the current policies enacted by the Farm Bill. Any changes to the current policy will only further food insecurity in America.

 Farmers will also be protected from disasters, enabling our food system to continue to thrive.

 

5) Individual Freedom and Responsibility

 

 Americans should not go hungry. No person should have to worry about where his or her next meal will come from. However, if the Government is funding ways for people to receive access to food, the Government does have a right to mandate, or regulate this policy. While there currently is little to no regulation on the goods that SNAP participants use their benefits for, there should be more regulation on the types of food these individuals receive. Because the government is providing this population with the means to have access to their next meal, the government should have the ability to regulate what their money is spent on. While adequacy of the amount of food is a priority, so is the nutritional value of the foods that these individuals are buying. Nutrition assistance programs are supplemental programs; therefore, they should not be treated as the only means of food access. Government-funded food access should be spent on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, other sources of protein, and foods that promote a healthful diet. Recipients may then choose to spend money on sugar sweetened beverages and less nutritionally dense on their own dime. The nutrition professional’s role is to bridge the gap between low-income families and food insecurity. Nutrition professionals do not want to see hunger, malnutrition, chronic disease, or death as a result of these factors. People who qualify to receive benefits should be receiving benefits. They qualify because they do not have the means to provide resources stable enough to live off of. Many people receiving benefits are working. However, they are not making enough money to make ends meet. Because SNAP benefits and other programs are governmentally funded, it is the right of the government to mandate this policy. People have the right to food and the right to health, no matter what income, state of living, race, or ethnicity. These individuals who struggle to provide themselves these rights should have the means to rely on those who can provide them these rights. If work requirements were further established or waivers eliminated from funding programs, individuals’ right to access of safe food would be unfairly limited. The original structure of SNAP and the current work requirements stimulate productivity and help empower people’s willingness to work, while also providing low-income families with the means to obtain their rights.

 

6) Conclusion

 

This is not the last of the 2018 Farm Bill debate. The Republican Party is still pushing for further work requirements and stipulations for SNAP beneficiaries. For now, the Farm Bill enables low-income groups and individuals access to food. The Farm Bill also stimulates job opportunity and marketplace productivity by providing safety-nets that allow our food system to continue growing. This demographics is also provided with the resources to make conscious decisions related to their food and health. The bill stimulates job opportunity and marketplace productivity, allowing our food system to continue to provide Americans with food. Lastly, the Farm Bill provides education opportunities to empower participants to make healthy food choices, and to provide themselves with greater opportunity for employment. The Academy and nutrition professionals support the passage of the Senate proposed version of 2018 Farm Bill as it will promote the continued downward trend of food insecurity in America.

 

 

References

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