2014 Farm Bill: New Rules for SNAP Retailers
The unfortunate $8.55 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dominated most conversations regarding the 2014 Farm Bill, and rightly so. What hasn't received as much attention are changes to the rules for the retail establishments that accept SNAP. Specifically, increases in the stocking requirements of healthy foods, which are being celebrated by nutrition advocates and healthcare providers. But these rules have the potential to actually reduce choice or even eliminate the ability to use SNAP for some users of the program.
According to the National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing the new depth-of-stock mandates will increase from four to " at least seven different varieties” of food items in each of the four “staple food” categories on a “continuous basis.” “ The “staple food” categories are as follows:
1. Meat, poultry, or fish
2. Bread or cereals
3. Vegetables or fruits
4. Dairy products
This type of change will result in an increased variety of healthier foods for many of the 46 million SNAP users, especially those living in food deserts. But what happens if the retailer decides the cost of meeting the stocking requirements negates the benefit of those SNAP dollars? Part of the mandate deems that the retailer must offer at least 3 of the staple food categories as a perishable food item. This may require adding refrigeration or reducing the stock of other perishable (and more profitable) goods. Other factors that retailers will have to consider are transportation costs and spoilage rates. This may not be a simple or possible change for all retailers.
Here in Humboldt County we can identify several rural communities that have but one small convenience store. Could those stores manage to keep up with these mandates? If not, what options do the SNAP users in that community have short of traveling for their shopping? The Governor of Alaska recently penned a letter asking the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to please consider that much of the entire state of Alaska will have difficulty complying with portions of the depth-of-stock mandates.
These changes are not yet in effect, and won’t be until the USDA has completed the details of the regulations. So, there may be exceptions granted for retailers who face larger hurdles than others. While it is ideal for all communities to have access to healthy foods, it remains critical to ensure that no one loses access to any food at all in that effort.
State Budget to Offset Cuts to CalFresh!
The Farm Bill of 2014 dealt a heavy blow to participants on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with the $8 billion cut to the program. The cuts primarily impact states that have been utilizing the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Plan (LIHEAP) to qualify applicants and recipients for the Standard Utility Allowance (SUA). When a minimum of $1 in LIHEAP is received in California, the CalFresh (SNAP in Califirnia) household receives the SUA, a practice known as Heat and Eat.. This practice enables eligibility workers to apply the SUA without having to wait for a copy of a utility bill. This practice reduces administrative inefficiencies and saves the state money. Additionally, CalFresh benefits are boosted by an average of $62. This boost is important as research suggests that rising costs and SNAP benefit amounts that are too low to accommodate a healthy diet are contributing to increased food insecurity. As the costs of both food and energy increase, the choice between heating homes and eating is edging closer to not having the ability pay for either necessity.
The 2014 Farm Bill requires a minimum of $20 in LIHEAP assistance for SNAP households to be categorically eligible for the SUA. As a result 850,000 SNAP households will lose an average of $90 per month in benefits. In California, over 300,000 households were set to lose an average of $62 in CalFresh benefits. Thankfully, the 2014-2015 state budget signed by the Governor includes an increase of $10.5 million from the General Fund to provide a state funded energy assistance subsidy for CalFresh recipients. This investment will boost monthly food budgets by an average of $62 for over 320,000 families, thus protecting California's neediest families from losing valuable nutrition assistance as a result of the Farm Bill cuts.
Progress in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity
Earlier this year Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the report, Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. The report concludes that “Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance.” . However, we should celebrate a 43% drop in obesity for the 2-5 year old age group in the last decade!
The drop in obesity for this age group is especially welcome as overweight and obese children are more likely to struggle with obesity as adults. At this point, there is only speculation as to what factors contributed to this decline. Changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as Food Stamp, that encourage increased consumption of fresh produce, like the Market Match program and the ability to use SNAP at farmers' markets and changes to WIC (Women, Infants & Children) are possible influences to this trend. The push for nutrition education to reduce diet-related illness and encourage healthy eating by non-profits and public health agencies has certainly contributed to this positive trend.
Despite the emphasis that this was the only age group that reported a decrease in obesity rates it is proof that efforts to combat this public health crisis are effective. In this effort, we must advocate to fund these efforts and support policies that encourage good health habits.
Good and Cheap
There is a lot of buzz surrounding Leanne Brown's newest cookbook, Good and Cheap.
As a masters student in Food Studies at New York University, Leanne recognized the absence of low income families in the discussions surrounding the food movement. Her book offers creative recipes based on a budget of $4 per day, per person. The $4 amount is based on the average amount of nutrition assistance granted to recipients of SNAP (formerly Food Stamps and currently known as CalFresh in California).
Not only is Good and Cheap a beautiful cookbook , it can be downloaded for free. But Leanne wants everyone to access her book, not just those who have internet access, so she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print copies, that will be sold as well as donated to non-profit organizations that service low-income families and individuals.
Lifetime Ban for Drug Felons Eliminated!
For the last several years, advocates throughout California have worked tirelessly in several attempts to pass bills that would eliminate the state's lifetime ban on receiving CalFresh and CalWORKS for people convicted of certain drug felonies. Unfortunately, none of them passed.
Now the fight to repeal this harmful policy has been won through a different avenue; the 2014-2105 California State Budget. Beginning April 1, 2015 people convicted of a drug related felony, who meet all the terms of their parole and probation, may be eligible for CalFresh and CalWORKS.
Launch of Talkpoverty.org
A new resource in the fight against poverty has arrived with the launch of TalkPoverty.org., a project of the Half in Ten Education Fund. The blog site provides information about poverty, advocacy opportunities, and features shared personal experiences of those who are fighting against, surviving through, and overcoming poverty.
Bring A Million to Humboldt County
When Food for People launched the Bring a Million to Humboldt County campaign in 2009, nationwide participation in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the program formerly known as Food Stamps) increased from 36 million to 46 million people. Humboldt County experienced a 64% increase, jumping from 11,000 participants (about half of which were children) spending $1.75 million at local stores and farmers’ markets each month to the current 18,000 local residents spending more than $2.5 million monthly.
In October 2010 California’s name for the Food Stamp Program changed to CalFresh, to emphasize that the program promotes healthy living, supports California agriculture, is a nutrition program, and no longer uses “stamps”. Bring a Million educates the community about the benefits of CalFresh and helps eligible households apply for benefits. The 18,000 Humboldt County residents participating in CalFresh represent a little less than two-thirds of the total eligible, and they spend more than $2.5 million CalFresh dollars monthly in the local economy. According to the California Food Policy Advocate's annual report "Lost Dollars, Empty Plates" , Humboldt County misses out on an additional $1.05 million each month available to households not currently enrolled. In addition, CalFresh dollars ripple throughout the local economy at a rate of $1.79 for every CalFresh dollar spent, improving business for local stores, farms, workers and beyond. Based on this rate of economic impact, the $12.6 million in CalFresh that Humboldt County leaves on the table for the year translates to a loss of $22.6 million in local economic impact due to low enrollment.
Food for People’s CalFresh Outreach Program has helped people apply for CalFresh (Food Stamps) since 2003, as a means to connect clients to another resource for nutrition. When clients who are eligible for CalFresh enroll, it also helps the food bank stretch its food resources to assist people who have no other options for making it through each month. More than a decade ago, the Outreach Program had one part-time staff person who offered assistance in filling out applications and delivering the completed application to DHHS. Over the years the food bank’s level of service has grown to meet the need for increased assistance beyond the initial application. Now a team of three provides an increased level of assistance, helping clients to gather and submit documents requested by the County and assisting with eligibility interviews, semi-annual reports, and recertification, so clients can access and maintain benefits as long as they are eligible. Even if a household did not apply for CalFresh through Food for People, staff are available to help answer questions and assist with any part of the eligibility and reporting processes. It is also possible to apply online at www.c4yourself.com and to complete the entire process by phone and mail. Food for People, DHHS and other organizations coordinate outreach efforts locally through the Humboldt County CalFresh Task Force. Throughout June, July, and August, Food for People’s Outreach team will travel around the county visiting food pantries, senior meal sites, family resource centers, and other community locations to answer questions and help people apply for CalFresh.
To learn more about Bring a Million to Humboldt County go to our website or call (707)445-3166 ext. 308.
Food for People's Monthly Cooking Class
Each month, Food for People organizes a free cooking class for low-income households in Humboldt County. Taught by volunteer chef and College of the Redwoods instructor, Anne Harris, this class teaches basic culinary skills, food and kitchen safety, and how to make nutritious and delicious dishes using commodity foods and fresh produce.
For more information, please contact Ciel Hoyt at Food for People (contact information below).
For more information on Food for People, to refer someone for assistance with CalFresh, to schedule a CalFresh training or application clinic, Hunger 101 presentation, or nutrition education activity for your organization, please contact:
Community Education & Outreach Coordinator
(707) 445-3166 ext. 308 / firstname.lastname@example.org
CalFresh Application Assistor
Nutrition Education Coordinator
ext. 305 / email@example.com
*Images in this issue are provided by: Food for People, Chris Wisner, the USDA, Stuart Miles, Paul, Danilo Rizzuti, Ambro, healingdream, Master isolated images, Salvatore Vuono, stuffflypeoplelike.com, www.freegraphics.org, Michelle Meiklejohn, and chawalitpix of FreeDigitalPhotos.net., Participant Media