February 23, 2020

House Ag Committee Discusses SNAP (Food Stamp) Issues

Categories: Farm Bill /Nutrition

A news release yesterday from the House Ag Committee indicated that, “Today, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review the various options available to states when implementing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Members heard from a panel of witnesses who shared the current options available to states when implementing the program and how those options allow states to respond to the needs of their respective populations. Some of these state options streamline program administration, coordinate SNAP with other assistance programs for low-income families, and enable states to design the program to meet their objectives through determining their own financial eligibility, work-related eligibility, and reporting requirements.”

Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) noted at yesterday’s hearing that, “When carrying out the program, states determine eligibility requirements, such as income thresholds, asset limits, and work-related requirements. Through categorical eligibility, states can utilize the participation from one means-tested program, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, to defer eligibility for SNAP. When calculating and issuing monthly benefits for those eligible, states have the flexibility to determine the value of medical deductions or standard utility allowances. It is important to note SNAP does not operate in a vacuum.

“When administering SNAP, states have a multitude of programs they are overseeing. As we will hear today, other programs, such as TANF and the Supplemental Security Income program have an effect on how SNAP is administered in states. It is important to look at how, as a collective whole, these programs are used by the people they serve.”

Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) pointed out yesterday that, “I’ve been urging, for some time now, that the Committee take a good look at the flexibility states have when administering SNAP. I understand that this is done to simplify the process but I worry that it’s gone too far and they now have too much leeway.

“During the last farm bill debate I offered a plan to reform categorical eligibility. Of course that didn’t happen but I still have a hard time understanding how states, with both Democratic and Republican governors, are allowed to exceed federal eligibility guidelines and then charge the federal government for the additional expense. This creates a system where we treat people differently in different parts of the country and I don’t think that’s right.

My district, for example, borders North Dakota. North Dakota and Minnesota have different income and asset tests to qualify for SNAP. So people in the same community are being treated differently.”

Karen Cunnyngham of Mathematica Policy Research stated in prepared remarks yesterday that, “In FY 2014, the average monthly percentage of a state’s population subject to work requirements ranged from fewer than 3 percent in Delaware, Massachusetts, and Oregon to over 20 percent in Florida and Michigan. The percentage subject to time limits varied from less than half a percent in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Nevada to 9 percent or more in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. The average monthly benefit per person was higher for participants subject to work requirements ($162) and subject to time limits ($178) than the average benefit per person for all participants ($124).”

In addition, Stacy Dean, Vice President for Food Assistance Policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities indicated in her prepared remarks that, “The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has more than tripled — from about 2 million in 2000 to about 7 million in 2014. The share of SNAP families that are working while receiving SNAP assistance has also been rising — while only about 28 percent of SNAP families with an able-bodied adult had earnings in 1990, 57 percent of those families were working in 2014…[M]ost SNAP recipients who can work do so.”

Ms. Dean also noted that, “The percentage of SNAP benefit dollars issued to ineligible households or to eligible households in excessive amounts fell for seven consecutive years and stayed low in 2014 at 2.96 percent, USDA data show. The underpayment error rate also stayed low at 0.69 percent. The combined payment error rate — that is, the sum of the overpayment and underpayment error rates — was 3.66 percent, low by historical standards.3 Less than 1 percent of SNAP benefits go to households that are ineligible.”

And, Ms. Dean pointed out that, “SNAP has low administrative overhead. About 90 percent of federal SNAP spending goes to providing benefits to households for purchasing food.”

Meanwhile, Claire Williams reported this week at Arkansas Online that, “The 30,000 Arkansans who could lose food stamps this year will have more options to receive training and find jobs through a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday.

“The SNAP to Skills program will help states organize programs to ultimately move adults off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. People who would otherwise lose access to government food stamps could continue to use them under the training programs as they search for employment and receive training, Vilsack said.”

And Lynn Bonner reported earlier this week at The News & Observer (NC) Online that, “The goal of such employment and training projects, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is to get adults to a point where they no longer need help from the food stamp program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“States ‘will learn best practices, get technical assistance and learn how they can make more robust their efforts to find jobs’ for food stamp recipients, Vilsack said in an interview. ‘This is the right way to reduce SNAP rolls, not some artificial process.'”

Keith Good

World Food Prices Remain Steady

A news release today from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that, “The FAO Food Price Index was stable in February, as falling sugar and dairy prices offset a substantial jump in vegetable oil prices from the previous month.

“Averaging 150.2 points for the month, the FAO Food Price Index was virtually unchanged from a revised 150.0 points in January and down 14.5 percent from a year ago.”

Today’s update also noted that, “FAO also issued its first forecast for the world’s 2016 wheat harvest, projecting 723 million tonnes of total production, about 10 million tonnes below last year’s record output.”

Reuters writer Isla Binnie reported today that, “World food prices stabilised in February near a seven-year low as rising vegetable oil and meat prices offset declines in cereals, sugar and dairy, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

Food prices have fallen for four straight years and remain under pressure from ample agricultural supply, a slowing global economy and a strengthening U.S. dollar.”

And, Bloomberg writer Whitney McFerron reported today that, “Wheat prices are near a five-year low as large harvests around the world are set to boost grain stockpiles to the highest in three decades. The FAO expects wheat production to drop in the next season because farmers in Ukraine and Russia, two of the top exporting countries, reduced planting of winter crops because of dry weather.”

Keith Good

GMO Labeling Issues Percolate in the Senate

Categories: Biotech

Michal Addady reported yesterday at Fortune Online that, “Want to know if your food contains genetically modified organisms? Hope that food companies feel like telling you.

“In a 14-6 vote, the Senate Committee on Agriculture approved a bill that makes GMO labeling voluntary, preempting any state or local initiatives that would have made it mandatory. The legislation will now make its way to the full Senate for consideration.”

Recall that the House passed legislation on this topic with a bipartisan vote of 275-150 last summer.

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from former Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D., Vt.) stated that, “Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senators [Leahy], Jon Tester (D-MT), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Wednesday introduced legislation that would ensure that consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging while ensuring that food producers are not subject to confusing or conflicting labeling requirements in different locations.

The senators’ legislation presents an alternative to a Senate Agriculture Committee bill that would hide ingredient information from consumers by overturning state GMO labeling laws.”

The release explained that, “Specifically, the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act would amend the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to require manufacturers to disclose the presence of GM ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways:

– “Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate that this ingredient is ‘Genetically Engineered.’

-“Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.

-“Manufacturers may simply apply a catch all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was ‘produced with genetic engineering.’

-“The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging.

None of these options would require front panel disclosures or ‘warning’ statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.”

Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Merkley stated that, “I will be rising periodically to address issues that affect Americans across our country and that this Chamber should be addressing. This week I am using my speech to highlight the labeling of genetically modified foods. This is truly a ‘We the people’ versus ‘We the Titans’ battle because citizens routinely poll in very high numbers about their desire to know what is in their food, and they like the idea of being alerted when their food contains genetically modified organisms or GMOs, but that is not necessarily the consequence, as when we go through the legislative process, often the ‘We the people’s’ commonsense vision is lost in favor of pressures applied by powerful interest groups. We are in the middle of a debate like that right now. So that is why I thought it appropriate to rise at this moment to address this.”

Sen. Merkley added that, “Just yesterday in the Senate, the Senate Agricultural Committee voted out a law to block the rights of citizens to know whether GMOs are in their food. That is an outrageous—outrageous—bill. It would halt any progress in ensuring that consumers can simply and easily access information about GMO ingredients through labeling.”

“Blocking States from being able to provide information that those State legislators or those State citizens, by initiative, say they want, that is an overstepping of Federal authority to crush States’ rights on an issue important to citizens,” Sen Merkley said.

A complete transcript of Sen. Merkley’s remarks can be found here.

Keith Good