Nutrition will pay the $1 trillion farm bill

Although it is colloquially called and commonly referred to as the Farm Act, the powerful package of farm legislation that Congress deals with every five years has much broader implications than just farmers. The entire food supply chain gets guidance from the law, and the largest group of people who receive its impact are consumers.

That’s because nearly three-quarters of the farm’s bill effort goes to nutrition and anti-hunger programs. Keep in mind that for the first time in history, the farm bill that Congress will work on this year will come with a price tag of more than $1 trillion, Barbara Patterson said on Jan. 11. Dairyman Hoard DairyLivestream.

That cost comes with a significant jump in resources for the government’s premium nutrition program, said Patterson, who tracks food and agriculture legislation with the Tory Advisory Group. The expansion of the SNA was driven by adjustments made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people lost their jobs and needed access to the program. Patterson said Congress also approved an increase in emergency provisions so that participants could get more food for their families.

Moreover, Congress recently directed the USDA to update the Frugal Food Plan. “The Thrifty Food Plan is the basis by which SNAP benefits are calculated,” Patterson described. “Congress does not set how much each SNAP participant should get; it is based on a calculation that assesses the economics but also the nutritional value of what the food basket will look like.” She went on to say that this recalculation alone was responsible for SNAP participants getting about 20% more food.

The pandemic was likely part of the reason the White House held its first-ever conference on food, nutrition, and health last fall. The event highlighted the administration’s goals to not only eliminate hunger, but to reduce chronic disease in the United States through access to better nutrition.

“There is a tremendous focus on public health as we emerge from COVID-19, and that pretty much cuts across nutrition and food and conversations about food as medicine,” Patterson said.

What do these changes mean for the next iteration of SNAP when it’s an important part of the farm bill?

“We’re heading into this year with a really big focus on SNAP cost,” Patterson explained. This is typical after a series of changes because what Congress can influence is eligibility for the program. She noted that there had already been some rumblings about program cuts or increased labor requirements, which would be difficult to pass in a deeply divided Congress.

Patterson described the importance of feeding into the legislative package: “In the most recent farm bills, we’ve seen SNAP the target of reforms, creating challenging dynamics to get the farm bill across the finish line.”

Farm bills have certainly stopped and restated in the past; Implementation of both the 2008 and 2014 measures took more than a year. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time around, but both parties will have to settle a number of differences. Regardless, SNAP and other nutrition measures such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will carry significant weight while these discussions continue.

To watch the January 11 DairyLivestream recording, go to the link above. The recording of the program is also available as an audio-only podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts and can be downloaded at Dairyman Hoard website.

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January 23, 2023

Nutrition will pay the $1 trillion farm bill

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