The 2023 Farm Bill gives Congress an opportunity to improve food and nutrition security through federal nutrition assistance programs by expanding access, reducing costs through improved efficiencies and program integrity, and promoting workforce participation. The legislation also is an opportunity to increase the intake of foods recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and to enhance benefits to ensure eligible households can access, afford, and have sufficient knowledge to purchase and prepare a nutritious, balanced diet. The major federal nutrition assistance programs authorized in the farm bill are:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamp program
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
- Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
- Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI)
- Community Food Projects
The farm bill is an omnibus, multiyear law that governs an array of food and agricultural programs. Although farm bills originally focused on farm commodity revenue supports, the legislation’s programs have become increasingly expansive in nature, particularly when the nutrition title was first included in 1973. Typically reauthorized about every five years, the most recent farm bill, the $428 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-334), was signed into law in December 2018 and expires on September 30, 2023. The 2018 Farm Bill consisted of 12 titles, including the nutrition title, which reauthorized the programs listed above. The nutrition title composed 76% of total 2018 Farm Bill spending, making it the costliest title by far, with most of the funds going to SNAP. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s May 2022 baseline for the legislation’s major programs, the 2023 Farm Bill is estimated to cost $1.295 trillion over 10 years, making it the first ever farm bill to exceed $1 trillion. The nutrition title is projected to make up 84% of total 2023 Farm Bill spending. This increase reflects COVID-19 pandemic assistance, growth in participation, and adjustments to SNAP benefit calculations.
In fiscal year 2021, more than 41 million Americans participated in SNAP and the total cost of the program was more than $113 billion. In FY2022, SNAPcosts were projected to increase by 18%, largely due to the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) update, which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Federal nutrition assistance programs, including SNAP, serve 1 in 4 Americans. Given the broad reach of the federal nutrition assistance programs, it is imperative that they serve families in need, operate efficiently, and provide families with the foods they need to achieve both food and nutrition security.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS), 33.8 million American households experienced food insecurity in 2021, or 1 in 10 households. Black (19.8%) and Hispanic (16.2%) households were disproportionately affected, with food insecurity rates more than double the rate of white households (7%). In addition to food insecurity, Americans are also experiencing alarming rates of chronic conditions, many of which are nutrition-related. More than 40% of U.S. adults and almost 20% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 have obesity, according to the CDC. Currently, 6 in 10 U.S. adults have a chronic condition, many of which are nutrition-related, and 4 in 10 have more than one, including heart disease, some cancers, stroke, or diabetes. These conditions are also costly, as evidenced by a 2019 study finding that unhealthy diets accounted for almost 20% ($50 billion) of annual U.S. health care costs from heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. At a time when families are still experiencing food and nutrition security challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, food price inflation, and other issues, Congress should consider the health and economic costs of hunger, food insecurity, obesity, and other diet-related diseases as it reauthorizes the farm bill or considers other policy changes to federal nutrition programs.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force (FNSTF) makes five key policy recommendations and more than 25 subrecommendations for strengthening SNAP and other federal nutrition assistance programs authorized in the farm bill. In addition to the diverse expertise of the FNSTF, the recommendations were informed by a stakeholder roundtable, focus groups with former and current SNAP participants, and a nationally representative poll on perspectives on SNAP and potential policy changes. The September 2022 poll, which surveyed 2,210 U.S. adults, including 483 SNAP participants, found support for increased SNAP benefit levels; access to the program for additional population groups such as college students; opportunities for online grocery purchasing; and pilot programs aimed at incentivizing the purchase of healthful foods. A bipartisan majority of U.S. adults (67%) and a majority of SNAP participants (58%) said that states should be able to operate pilot programs to improve the nutrition of SNAP participants, either freely or with USDA approval. Additionally, more than two-thirds of adults across political parties and more than three-quarters of SNAP participants supported providing additional benefits to SNAP participants for the purchase of fruits and vegetables or a range of healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. A majority of U.S. adults and SNAP participants also favored providing these additional benefits even when conditioned on not purchasing or with reduced benefits for purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages.
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