With the White House hosting a conference on hunger, nutrition, and health in September and Congress expected to renew nutrition programs as part of the Farm Bill in 2023, BPC’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force plans to develop recommendations for how policymakers can strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
COVID-19 and the negative economic impacts that resulted showcased SNAP’s importance to tens of millions of families. With businesses closing and millions of workers losing their jobs, many turned to SNAP, the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, to help them put food on the table. SNAP’s caseload swelled while 10.5% of households were “food insecure,” meaning that they were not always sure where their next meal was coming from. Since March 2020, many families have found themselves navigating SNAP benefits and visiting local food banks for the first time to try to reduce food insecurity in their household. As a result of the flexibilities and increases in benefits provided through SNAP and other federal feeding programs, the percentage of Americans who were food insecure did not increase between 2019 and 2020. In 2021, the federal government expended nearly $114 billion on SNAP to serve over 41 million people. Even now, as COVID-19 is receding, SNAP continues to serve millions of Americans during their time of need.
The Farm Bill is a vehicle for one of the largest federal allocations of food and nutrition-related funding. For the 2018 Farm Bill, BPC convened a diverse bipartisan task force to develop a robust set of recommendations for strengthening nutrition in SNAP. The Task Force called for strengthening SNAP to improve dietary quality, funding programs to incentivize fruit and vegetable purchasing, strengthening SNAP retailer standards, improving education programs, and exploring further pilot programs.
In 2021, BPC assembled its 18-member bipartisan Food and Nutrition Security Task Force, with diverse expertise from both the public and private sectors. Through three reports, the task force aims to “assess both legislative and administrative policy opportunities and issue recommendations that will: 1) improve food and nutrition security during COVID-19 and the economic recovery, 2) strengthen the Child Nutrition Programs through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and 3) enhance the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance programs, including through the Farm Bill.”
The first report, Improving Food and Nutrition Security During COVID-19, the Economic Recovery, and Beyond, from September 2021, highlighted impacts of COVID-19 on food and nutrition insecurity and proposed federal nutrition policy options to continue supporting adults and children through the pandemic and beyond.
The second report, Strengthening the Child Nutrition Programs, from February 2022, further examined food and nutrition insecurity among children and adolescents and discussed how to improve food security and health outcomes through programs like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and others.
The task force’s final report, which it plans to issue this fall, will provide detailed recommendations on how to improve and strengthen SNAP and other nutrition programs in the 2023 Farm Bill. The task force hopes to build on BPC’s work on the 2018 Farm Bill to further protect program funding, maintain integrity, and remove roadblocks to promoting and improving health through food and nutrition. It will focus on the following topic areas:
- Nutritious Foods in SNAP—encourage SNAP participants to consume nutritious foods, such as through pilot programs, which present a unique opportunity to study the feasibility, quality, impact, and unintended consequences of programs on user health, satisfaction, and overall dietary quality.
- SNAP Benefit Levels and Eligibility—ensure that benefits are adequate to achieve a nutritious diet, and eligibility requirements do not present undue barriers to accessing the program for people in need or disincentivize work.
- SNAP Integrity and Administration—use data matching, online purchasing, and other technology enhancements to improve SNAP program access and operations for participants and retailers.
- Food Distribution Programs—modernize food distribution programs, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), to improve nutrition and program operations.
- Other Food and Nutrition Policies and Programs—improve food and nutrition security for priority populations through other food and nutrition assistance programs, such as the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Improved operations for these and other programs can increase food security and support for vulnerable populations.
- Food Box Programs—the task force will consider the effectiveness, efficiency, nutritional value, cost, format, impact on diverse populations, and unintended consequences of food box programs and recommend best practices for future programs.
To ensure that its policy recommendations are feasible and serve the needs of SNAP participants, BPC will incorporate lived experiences and other input from key stakeholders into the final recommendations.
In May 2022, BPC hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss the task force’s six policy topics with representatives from anti-hunger, private healthcare, food research, and public health groups, along with many other stakeholders. In addition, BPC representatives toured the Capital Area Food Bank in early June to understand challenges and opportunities with the implementation of these programs the community. BPC collected further insight through two virtual focus groups with SNAP participants at the end of June.
SNAP and other food and nutrition assistance programs are powerful poverty reduction tools with rich histories of bipartisan support and collaboration. BPC aims to further this legacy of bipartisanship in the 2023 Farm Bill by continuing to seek input from members of Congress, those with lived experience, and stakeholders to advocate for effective, efficient, and equitable nutrition programs.
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