Thursday, January 30, 2014

Farm Bill Agreement Moving Through Congress

After two years of on-and-off negotiations, Congress has reached a compromise on the Farm Bill. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday, January 29 and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill by the beginning of next week.

Highlights from the nutrition title include the following (all numbers are 10-year budget numbers): 

• $8.55 billion cut to SNAP by tightening the "Heat and Eat" provision, which would affect the following states:  California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The Heat & Eat provision is a coordination between SNAP and the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This program is intended to assist people who face the difficult choice between paying for food or paying for heat and utilities. Under Heat & Eat, people who qualify for LIHEAP are able to claim a Standard Utility Adjustment (SUA), simplifying their SNAP application and making them eligible for a higher SNAP benefit. It is estimated that the changes to Heat & Eat in the new Farm Bill couple put SNAP benefits in jeopardy for up to 11,000 Mainers.

• $205 million increase for TEFAP (a USDA commodity food program).  The TEFAP funding would be frontloaded to provide greater resources in the initial three years of the bill.

• Establishes the Dairy Donation Program. If dairy prices fall below a specific price trigger for 5 consecutive months, USDA is authorized to begin a dairy purchase program, with the dairy products going to public and private nonprofit organizations, and with instructions for USDA to consult with nonprofits on the type of dairy products requested. While there is no set cost, this would provide additional commodities much like TEFAP bonus commodities do when prices are low enough to trigger USDA price support.

• $250 million for states to pilot innovative programs help SNAP participants get back to work.

• Improves SNAP access by allowing SNAP home delivery for homebound seniors and disabled participants.

Feeding America released a press statement regarding its position, which provides additional details on the legislation. We encourage you to reach out to your Agency Field Rep with any questions or concerns about this bill, in addition to any compelling stories you hear about the impact of the bill once changes go into effect.
GSFB Network is a blog for partner agencies of Good Shepherd Food Bank focused on feeding Maine's hungry.