FarmPolicy

April 23, 2019

Federal Nutrition Issues, SNAP– Sec. Vilsack Remarks

Christopher Doering reported on Monday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The food stamp program is being unfairly targeted by Republican lawmakers despite evidence it helps children, the elderly and other Americans, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

“Vilsack, speaking before anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Center, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps lower poverty rates and improves childhood health and education. He rebuffed critics who said the program is fraught with abuse and fraud, noting that the SNAP error rate is among the lowest in government and its fraud rate is only 1 percent.

“‘Why is it that (lawmakers) are picking on the SNAP program? Because it works,’ Vilsack said. ‘If these people were really serious about reducing SNAP and helping folks why wouldn’t they consider raising the minimum wages?‘”

Mr. Doering added that, “Last week, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review SNAP and explore how to improve the program.

“‘While the economy has changed and other welfare programs have adjusted to meet changing needs, it does not appear that SNAP has,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. ‘I believe there is a role for SNAP, but we need to have a complete and clear understanding of its mission and purpose.'”

Arthur Delaney reported today at The Huffington Post Online that, “Vilsack said food insecurity and childhood hunger remain problems, with 15.8 million children living in households that struggled to afford food at some point in 2013.

“‘I don’t think there’s any understanding or appreciation of the depth of child poverty in many rural areas in this country,’ Vilsack said.”

A news release from USDA today stated that, “In a speech at the 2015 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference today about the extent of childhood hunger in America and the impact of USDA programs on reducing food insecurity, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $27 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed help end childhood hunger. The announcement was part of USDA efforts during National Nutrition Month to focus on poverty and food insecurity among children, especially in rural areas. These projects will be tested in Kentucky, Nevada, and Virginia, as well as the Chickasaw and Navajo tribal nations.”

Bob Aiken, the chief executive officer of Feeding America, and Jim Weill, the president of the Food Research and Action Center, noted in a column on Monday at The Hill Online that, “The federal nutrition programs are examples of public policy at its best and have a long history of holding the line against the most devastating impacts of poverty and hunger. Investing in ending hunger is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do with a large return on investment. Hunger increases illness and health care costs, lowers worker productivity, harms children’s development, and diminishes children’s educational achievement. Were it not for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), schools meals, afterschool and child care food, senior meals, WIC, commodity programs and other safety net programs, hunger and its impacts in our nation would be far worse.”

Aiken and Weill added that, “First, Congress must make hunger a priority in our nation’s budget and maintain its historic bipartisan commitment to protecting the structure and funding of programs that provide food assistance to vulnerable low-income households.

“And it must build on success with adequate funding and positive policy initiatives for the programs that help feed our children in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which includes school, after school, child care, and summer meals.”

A recent update at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicated that, “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, reaching nearly 47 million people nationwide in 2013 alone. These fact sheets provide state-by-state data on who participates in the SNAP program, the benefits they receive, and SNAP’s role in strengthening the economy.”

Meanwhile, an update on Monday at the USDA Blog by Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, stated that, “We all want our children to succeed. It’s an important value and one the entire country can rally around. This March we’re redoubling our efforts to that commitment by celebrating National Nutrition Month and the importance of raising a healthier generation of kids.”

Undersecretary Concannon also addressed the Food Research and Action Center policy conference today.

Also today, Lydia Wheeler reported at The Hill Online that, “Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is introducing legislation to relax the rules for healthy school lunches.

“At the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 2015 Legislative Action Conference at the JW Marriott Monday, Hoeven announced the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act to give schools more flexibility in complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations when it comes to whole grains and sodium levels.”

The Hill update added that, “The bill would allow schools to revert back to 2012 standards, which require at least half of all grains served in school breakfast and school lunch to be whole grain rich. The standard now is for 100 percent of all grains offered to be whole grain rich.

The bill also prevents USDA from requiring further sodium reductions in school meals below the current level, which took effect July 2014.”

Keith Good

Monday Quick Take: Ag Economy; Trade; Biofuels, and, the Budget

Agricultural Economy

As the ongoing drought in California persists, with resulting adverse water policy determinations for many Golden State farmers, Cindy Change and Matt Hamilton reported in Monday’s Los Angeles Times that, “A winter storm swept through Southern California on Sunday, bringing scattered showers, hail and thunder while higher elevations were expected to see a foot of snow overnight.

“The low-pressure system brought a smattering of storm cells, dumping rain throughout the region from San Luis Obispo to Orange counties.”

Monday’s article noted that, “After a morning lull in precipitation, a second, weaker storm is expected to pass through Monday afternoon. But the rain will not put much of a dent in the state’s lingering drought.

“‘Right now it’s enough to make my cactus smile and to green everything up,’ said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. ‘But we would need an inch a day for the next 30 days to make a dent in this drought…. Let’s get right down to it, this is puny.'”

Reuters news reported on Monday that, “Striking truck drivers resumed some roadblocks in Brazil on Monday even as the government cracked down on protesters and promised to implement a law to lower toll costs and give other benefits to the transport sector.

“In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where police had cleared roads by detaining protesters and bringing in back-up troops on Sunday, protesters were stopping trucks at 10 points, the local highway police said. Police were working to clear them, a spokesman said.”

Monday’s article explained that, “The nearly 2-week-old movement has slowed grain deliveries, forced meat-processing plants to close and started to leave some grocery stores with bare shelves.

The country’s No. 2 and 3 soy-exporting ports of Paranagua and Rio Grande have warned that dwindling soy stocks at the ports could affect exports if roadblocks continue.”

Meanwhile, Alexandra Stevenson and Paul Mozur reported in today’s New York Times that, “The smartphone tells the story of a kiwi fruit in China.

With a quick scan of a code, shoppers can look up the fruit’s complete thousand-mile journey from a vine in a lush valley along the upper Yangtze River to a bin in a Beijing supermarket. The smartphone feature, which also details soil and water tests from the farm, is intended to ensure that the kiwi has not been contaminated anywhere along the way.”

Today’s article noted that, “Controlling China’s sprawling food supply chain has proved a frustrating endeavor. Government regulators and state-owned agriculture companies have tried to tackle the problem in a number of ways — increasing factory inspections, conducting mass laboratory tests, enhancing enforcement procedures, even with prosecutions and executions — but food safety scandals still emerge too often.

Chinese technology companies believe they can do it better. From the farm to the table, the country’s biggest players are looking to upgrade archaic systems with robust data collection, smartphone apps, online marketplaces and fancy gadgetry.”

Trade

The New York Times editorial board indicated on Monday that, “The Obama administration and the governments of 11 countries could conclude a sweeping trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the coming months. Members of Congress should make sure that this and other deals being negotiated are good for America.”

The Times item, added that, “In recent years, trade agreements have become increasingly comprehensive, covering subjects that go far beyond familiar trade issues like tariffs and quotas. The T.P.P. negotiators, for instance, are discussing labor rights, environmental protection, patent and copyright law and how governments treat state-owned businesses. Done right, such deals can raise standards everywhere, protecting workers and opening new markets for American businesses. But there are potential downsides, too, including possible job losses.”

Biofuels

Dan Morgan, a retired reporter and editor with The Washington Post, noted in a column in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “Every day nearly a thousand railroad cars roll across the country carrying part of the soaring U.S. energy production that has shaken the global oil cartel and sent gasoline prices plummeting. The cargo is ethanol made from home-grown corn.

“This other American energy boom has been overshadowed by the stunning comeback of the domestic oil industry. President Barack Obama didn’t mention ethanol, biofuels, or agriculture in his State of the Union address, even as he boasted that the country was ‘number one in oil and gas.’ Yet a thriving renewable fuels industry also deserves a share of the credit for the energy renaissance.”

 

Mr. Morgan indicated that, “Based on numbers from the Department of Energy and the oil industry, the amount of ethanol used daily in the United States is now roughly equivalent to the gasoline from 1.2 million barrels of crude oil. That’s about the volume of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale, and only slightly less than Qatar’s daily output in 2014.

“Without ethanol, global stocks of oil would have been lower and crude oil prices would have been $10 a barrel higher at the end of 2013, according to a study last year by economist Philip K. Verleger Jr., an energy adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Ethanol sold for less than gasoline for all but seven weeks between the start of 2011 and last November, according to data collected by Oil Price Information Service and New York Mercantile Exchange. ‘Blending ethanol with gasoline has been profitable to the refining industry and some of that has been passed on to consumers,’ said Scott Irwin, a University of Illinois agricultural economist.”

Yesterday’s column pointed out that, “Yet ethanol from corn is now out of favor in Washington. In 2011, Congress cancelled a 33-year-old tax credit for blending it with gasoline. For more than a year, the White House has been considering a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to scale back requirements for biofuels in gasoline and diesel fuel that were set in 2007 energy legislation. EPA has taken other actions as well that could slow or even end the growth of ethanol, based on the agency’s concern about the fuel market’s ability to absorb larger volumes.

“The just-released White House annual economic report to Congress does cite the growth of ethanol and biofuels along with other energy achievements. But President Obama, once an enthusiast, last mentioned ethanol publicly on Aug. 17, 2011, when he stressed the need to ‘figure out how we can make biofuels out of things that don’t involve our food chain.'”

Concluding, Mr. Morgan noted that, “With grain prices near lows of a few years ago and ethanol production at record levels, corn farmers insist they can grow more crops for energy without hurting consumers or the land. ‘No matter how you slice it, corn produces food and energy more efficiently than anything else,’ said Ron Alverson, a corn farmer and founding chairman of Dakota Ethanol, a 48 million gallon-a-year plant in Wentworth, S.D.

The administration may not see it that way. Even so, the biofuels industry deserves better than to be the orphan of President Obama’s energy policy. In an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, it seems only fair to give the ‘corn patch’ a place alongside the ‘oil patch.'”

Budget

Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane reported on the front page of Monday’s Washington Post that, “House Republican leaders will face a familiar dilemma this week when they try again to approve funding to keep the Department of Homeland Security functioning through the end of September: They know their party is too divided to resolve the crisis on its own but fear the political fallout if they rely on Democrats to get them out of the jam.”

The Post article noted that, “By late Sunday, [Speaker John] Boehner’s House Republicans had no clear path to a solution other than retreating from their demands that the DHS funding measure include provisions that would block ­implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.”

Speaker Boehner addressed the DHS funding issue yesterday on “Face the Nation.”

Keith Good