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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