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Food Equity and the 2023 FARM Act

by Nan Mellem


When most families talk about quality time spent in community with one another there is usually a meal involved. Weddings; coming of age celebrations; observance of religious holidays from many denominations; graduation parties; funerals; even a brief meeting of long-separated friends often includes lunch, dinner or, at the very least, a trip to a coffee shop.


Food nurtures our bodies, and a meal with friends or family nurtures our soul. A shared meal builds a community.


When strangers are brought in from the cold, we offer them a blanket and a warm cup of something to drink and some food. We recognize on a primal level that people need to collect themselves before they can even begin to tell their story...before their brain functions properly they need to be safe, warm, and fed. It is the bare minimum of human kindness that we offer to one another.


"Anti-hunger advocates are closely watching negotiations over the 2023 Farm Bill. Every five years, Congress considers this large piece of legislation - but it doesn't just impact agriculture. The Farm Bill also contains funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - the country's largest food aid program." These are the opening lines of Eric Tegethoff's "Changes to SNAP in 2023 Farm Bill Concern Hunger-Fighting Groups," (Public News Service, Monday, July 17, 2023, full article at the link).


The Farm Bill only comes up for review once every five years, and this September will mark the beginning of the debate on potential changes to the 2023 Farm Bill which will shape the effectiveness of the SNAP Program to support families from 2023 until 2028.


Mr. Tegethoff's article talks about the hunger cliff that followed the end of benefits put in place to get families through the pandemic, but there are other regularly occurring hunger cliffs that families face when they rely on the SNAP program to put food on the table.



Understanding What Is at Stake

A visit to the American Public Human Services Association website's home page features a Resource page devoted to the 2023 Farm Bill. The APHSA is releasing a series of policy briefs, in reader-friendly PDF format, that detail plans to make the SNAP program inside of the Farm Bill more effective for everyone.


The APHSA recently released "Navigating the SNAP Cliff (Part 1): Building Bridges to Scale High Impact SNAP E&T Programming" in July. The series started with "A Roadmap for Building a More Effective, Resilient, and Customer-Centered SNAP Program" (released March 2023) as an overview of what they hope to accomplish with the passage of the 2023 FARM Act (see their "SNAP Agency Priorities" below for a quick overview).


This is a piece of legislation that has a direct effect on whether or not families in need have access to healthy food, it will not be voted on via the November ballot. Getting out to vote is important, but this won't be on your ballot.


This legislation will allow or restrict access to healthy food for families in difficult times for the next five years, and it will be voted on by Congress and the President.


Therefore, it is a piece of legislation to study and understand, watch its progress through the houses of Congress, and contact your representatives and senators with feedback as the bill progresses through the legislative process.



The 2018 FARM Act Made Progress

Congress made headway in 2018 helping people develop job skills and create employment opportunities by creating the SNAP E&T program (Education & Training). Some SNAP E&T programs provided a small income for participants. An unfortunate "SNAP Cliff" was the unintended consequence; the small income participants received made them ineligible for SNAP benefits—including the E&T programs in which they were enrolled! That's a problem.


Part of the 2023 review effort, therefore, is to rework the bill so earnings from SNAP E&T programs will no longer eject people from the program. It is better that participants complete their training while they have access to healthy nutrition in order to take the next steps toward financial independence through unsubsidized employment—going out and getting a "regular" job after their training is completed, and with a fresh letter of recommendation from an employer. Ultimately, the program will experience a savings in tax dollars because participants will progress through the program to financial independence.


This is just one part of a far larger plan for the bill.



APHSA's SNAP Agency Priorities

APHSA has identified several "SNAP Agency Priorities for Program Success" (screen capture from their website):

The policy briefs APHSA is releasing this year break down the big picture plan into digestible chunks addressing each of the areas above.


Our legislators should be aware of these briefs and they should be doing what they can (no matter which side of the aisle they are on) to benefit the American people. So let's make sure they are doing so!



Additional Information

APHSA's LinkedIn page - You can follow their posts for updates if you like.

S.68 - FARM Act on congress.gov - This link will take you to the Summary for the Bill and on the right side of the page there is a "Contact Your Member" link so you can provide feedback on the bill. The link will help you find your Senator(s) and Representative(s) and provide contact information. In my experience, they usually respond with an informative form letter—probably written by a staff member, but that is ok.

Feeding America - Link to Feeding America's page about the FARM Bill with some "fast facts" and they also talk about TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program). They also have a Take Action "Send a Letter to Congress" pre-prewritten. If you choose to use it instead of the one below, you won't hurt my feelings...teehee. Just let your voice be heard!



A Call to Action: Make Your Voice Heard!

If you'd like a place to start, here's an email to copy/paste (and edit as you like) to send to your Senator(s) and Representative(s):

_______

Subject Line: S.68 - FARM Act and the SNAP Program

_______

Senator (or Representative) their last name:


I understand debate over the 2023 FARM Act is scheduled to begin in September, and it will have far reaching consequences for food security for American families in need since the SNAP program is a major part of the legislation.


S.68 - FARM Act as it was introduced by Sen. Tuberville, Tommy [R-AL] (Introduced 01/25/2023) could benefit from a review and edits after taking into consideration the American Public Human Services Association's (https://aphsa.org/APHSA/Focus_Areas/FarmBill2023) SNAP Policy Areas of Focus which include:

  • Improving Customer Experience in Benefits Access

  • Creating Pathways for Economic Mobility through SNAP E&T and Work Supports—progress was made here in 2018, but could use some refinement

  • Advancing Equity in SNAP Policy

  • Strengthening Program Integrity

  • Improving SNAP Technology and EBT Infrastructure

  • Enhancing Nutrition Security through SNAP-Ed

  • Streamlining Administrative Policies and Procedures.

The APHSA is publishing a series of Policy Briefs to highlight the real-life experiences and consequences of the legislation you write and vote into law to better understand how to help the program fulfill its goal and do so with greater reach and efficiency.


The APHSA is a bipartisan organization that has developed its 2023 Farm Bill recommendations through a member-led process, leaning on the unique expertise of its network of state and local agency executives, SNAP Directors, QC Managers, Chief Information Officers, SNAP Employment & Training leads, SNAP-Ed and Outreach coordinators, and more. The recommendations set forth reflect the bipartisan consensus of public administrators that provide the critical infrastructure needed for SNAP to realize its potential as an essential tool that promotes thriving families and communities.


As a constituent, I encourage you and your staff to review the research, analyses and suggestions made by the APHSA in order to make an informed decision about how to modify the SNAP Program within the 2023 FARM Act. I will be doing the same.


According to APHSA, the content of their Policy Briefs include "recommendations that have been guided by our members and have received consensus across the country."


I will be interested to see how the 2023 FARM Act proceeds through the legislative process, and I'll be watching for development of related bills. I hope to see some of the APHSA's suggestions for the SNAP Program put into action.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,


Your Name




If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to speak with a representative who will find food resources such as meal sites, food banks, and other social services available near your location.

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