Senator Booker, Representatives Ryan and Lee Urge Department of Agriculture to Modernize SNAP Program by Bringing Benefits Online
“Modernizing SNAP benefits will help increase the opportunity for low-income families to access healthy and affordable food that could ultimately lead to healthier lives.”
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to expedite United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) acceptance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for online transactions, which would expand access to healthier foods for low-income individuals and families.
“It is imperative for the economic future and the health of all Americans to ensure that each person has access to nutritious and affordable food, especially the 46 million people who rely on SNAP to ensure that they and their families have enough food to eat. As you know, individuals and their families who rely on SNAP are more likely to reside in food deserts, have lower nutrition education, and live in poverty. That is why it is vital that our nation commits to reducing hunger and bolstering nutrition through improvements in SNAP, such as online transactions,” Sen. Booker and Reps. Ryan and Lee wrote in the letter.
“We know that technological advancements over the last 10 years, like the proliferation of smartphones, have dramatically increased access to the internet throughout our country. Unfortunately, many of our governmental policies and programs have not kept pace with the dramatic improvement in healthy food access that technology offers.
“We deeply appreciate all of your efforts to increase access to healthy foods for all Americans, including your commitment to launch a demonstration project to allow use of SNAP online. However, given the urgent need to catch up with the rapid pace at which the private sector is utilizing technology to expand access to healthy foods, we urge you to consider moving up the timing for beginning the project, allowing all eligible retailers to participate, and facilitating their participation by shortening the projects timeframe,” they concluded.
AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported today that, “The Agriculture Department unveiled new rules on Tuesday that would force retailers who accept food stamps to stock a wider variety of healthy foods or face the loss of business as consumers shop elsewhere.
“The proposed rules are designed to ensure that the more than 46 million Americans who use food stamps have better access to healthy foods although they don’t dictate what people buy or eat. A person using food stamp dollars could still purchase as much junk food as they wanted, but they would at least have more options in the store to buy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and bread.”
The AP article explained that, “Under current rules, SNAP retailers must stock at least three varieties of foods in each of four food groups: fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and cereals, and meats, poultry and fish. The new rules would require the retailers to stock seven varieties in each food group, and at least three of the food groups would have to include perishable items. In all, the rules would require stores to stock at least 168 items that USDA considers healthy.
“The proposal would also require that retailers have enough in stock of each item so that the foods would be continuously available.
“The rules could mean that fewer convenience stores qualify to be SNAP retailers.”
DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday that, “If nothing else, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy hopes a trip to Missouri this week to talk to farmers and agribusiness representatives will help to dispel what she said are ‘myths’ about the agency’s proposed Clean Water Act rule.
“During a conference call with reporters Tuesday ahead of a farm tour in the Columbia, Mo., area Wednesday and a speech before the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City Thursday, McCarthy wasted little time tackling claims made by agriculture interest groups and others about the proposed rule.
“‘Unfortunately there is a growing list of misunderstandings going around and we’re trying to clarify the issues,’ she said. ‘Hopefully it is an opportunity to set the record straight. This is not about restricting farmers, but protecting waters downstream. While there are legitimate concerns, we’re hearing some concerns that, to put frankly, are ludicrous.’”
The Minneapolis District indicated that, “Hog producers continued to lose large numbers of animals to a virus, pushing up prices for pork, as well as poultry. Cattle producers enjoyed record beef prices, as overseas demand grew and efforts to rebuild the U.S. herd kept cattle from going to slaughter.”
The Kansas City District noted that, “Profit margins for livestock operators improved further as low cattle and hog supplies pushed prices higher and feed costs remained flat.”
And the San Francisco District added that, “In general, dairy operations benefited from low feed costs. Pork production remained weak as a fatal virus swept through pig farms in some areas.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “After years of trying, the potato lobby may have found the votes to break into the government’s premier nutrition program for pregnant mothers and their infants.
“Prominent members of both parties have signed onto an industry-backed letter circulating this week in the Senate, and nutrition groups are clearly alarmed after successfully blocking the powerful lobby in final talks on the farm bill last winter.
“If successful, the industry will gain what it sees as an important marketing tool. But critics charge that the end result will open the door to more special interests and violate a long-standing commitment by Congress to let independent scientists decide what foods are most needed.”
The AP reported this morning that, “Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid.
“The GOP move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest…[T]he annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10 percent below this year’s budget.
“The farm subsidy cuts won bipartisan approval in the House Appropriations Committee two weeks ago, but as debate on the House floor began Tuesday, Republicans turned to a procedural maneuver to drop that language.”
Ron Hays of the Radio Oklahoma Network reported yesterday at the Oklahoma Farm Report Online that, “The Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee was back in his home district, tending to the folks on a community by community basis. [GOP] Congressman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma’s Third Congressional District held a total of 14 Field Hearings during four days of the Easter Congressional break.
“His last stop was El Reno, the county seat of Canadian County. During the hour session, Congressman Lucas took the first fifteen minutes and talked about the federal debt and the upcoming debt to raise the debt ceiling, about Libya and about the process of his Committee preparing to write the next farm bill. About 50 citizens showed up, and they offered commentary and asked a few questions on subjects like Healthcare, Social Security and Medicare.”
Mr. Hays added that, “After his hour before the folks, we retreated for a conversation about a variety of agricultural issues, including what ramifications the upcoming debt ceiling vote may have on farm program spending- both this year as well as in the future.”
The full audio interview with Mr. Hays and Chairman Lucas, which covered a variety of issues, is available here, while a short clip featuring comments from Chairman Lucas on budgetary and Farm Bill issues can be heard here (MP3- 3:54).
Paul Kane reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Congressional leaders in both parties agree they have to stop putting off the inevitable and reach a deal to fund the federal government through September, the end of the fiscal year.
“Washington is limping along on stopgap funds that expire April 8, the sixth short-term extension in the past 5.5 months. Neither side wants to pass another one. The extensions are a hassle to negotiate, with the two parties bickering over spending cuts for little benefit.
“But there is one big obstacle in the way of a long-term deal, one that goes beyond the arguments over dollars and cents. The budget proposal the House Republican majority approved this year included a number of unrelated amendments — riders, in Congress-speak — that would impose restrictions on federal agencies.”
Some testimony that was delivered by witnesses at that hearing has been posted at the Senate Budget Committee Online. Excerpts of comments made at the hearing included the following:
Ryan Pederson, President, Northern Canola Growers Association- “We feel that agriculture has already endured significant cuts in the crop insurance program as approximately $3.9 billion was trimmed recently. A significant portion of that cut was allocated to deficit reduction, which shows that agriculture has already made some necessary contributions to aid in our nation’s deficit problem. This has to be taken into account when cuts are demanded of growers during the discussions of the 2010 Farm Bill….A sound crop insurance program is critical to growers to protect against losses that can result from factors beyond our control. It is even more critical as input costs continue to increase at rates beyond the rate of inflation. The NCGA opposes cuts in the crop insurance baseline. Any reallocation of spending under the program should be used to pay for reforms needed to make it more effective on a nationwide basis…If changes to direct payments are to be made, we would ask that these funds be redirected into additional risk management tools such as crop insurance…We would like to see the ACRE Program focused at a more local level than is currently the case.”
Jeffrey Oberholtzer, Director, National Sunflower Association (NSA) – “Crop Insurance: This is the number one tool for sunflower farmers to protect farm income. Further strengthening of crop insurance programs will be supported by the NSA…Direct Payments: There is general agreement within the board that direct payments should be reinvented if this program is a lightning rod for farm program opponents. Obviously no one wants to give up an income stream like direct payments. However, if direct payments are viewed negatively by the public then adjustments should be made. We would support redirecting at least a portion of these payments to further strengthen crop insurance programs or possibly SURE and ACRE programs…SURE and Disaster Programs: We have not had much experience with the SURE program but give Congress high marks for putting a permanent disaster program in place.”
Robert Carlson, President of the North Dakota Farmers Union- “A shift of direct payments to a new or better program that reflects cost of production plus inflationary safety nets is also favored by our members. The Average Crop Revenue (ACRE) program was an attempt to begin this process, but was complicated from a farmer’s perspective. The program has two levels of payment triggers to meet before it would make payments. It also involves a commitment from all landlords and a commitment for the life of the program that may not match the land rent agreement. A program like ACRE may work if the state payment trigger could be moved to a much smaller region or an individual farm payment trigger.”
Steve Edwardson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Barley Council- “Providing growers with a holistic safety net is critical to maintaining stability in agricultural production and the supply of human food and livestock feed. Improved risk management products are a primary component of a safety net, and will assist in preventing further erosion in the downward trend of barley production.”
Darren Samuelsohn reported yesterday at Politico that, “Lisa Jackson is sticking to her guns.
“The Environmental Protection Agency finds itself constantly under attack from industry groups and Republicans who say the agency is overreaching on everything from climate change to microscopic soot. And with the failure of the White House and Congress to pass a climate bill, combined with a potential GOP takeover, now could be seen as the right time for the agency’s head to dial back the rhetoric.
“But at an event last month celebrating the Clean Air Act’s 40th anniversary, Jackson swung hard at industry groups, offending some officials in the room and potentially adding fuel to claims the Obama administration is anti-business.”
Recall that back on April 30, the House Agriculture Committee held a field hearing in Des Moines, Iowa to review U.S. agriculture policy as the Committee begins the process of considering the 2012 Farm Bill.
An UNOFFICIAL transcript of this hearing has been posted at FarmPolicy.com and is available here.
Likewise, last Tuesday, the House Ag Committee held a field hearing in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill.
An UNOFFICIAL transcript of this hearing has been posted at FarmPolicy.com and is available here.
Meanwhile, a brief FarmPolicy.com recap of all of the House Ag Committee Farm Bill hearings is available here.
Ron Smith reported yesterday at the Southwest Farm Press Online that, “Brazil and the World Trade Organization are dealing with a situation that bears little resemblance to real world conditions in the cotton market, Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Ag Committee, said during a farm bill field hearing Monday in Lubbock.
“Peterson, commenting on the negotiations currently underway with Brazil to prevent retaliatory measures allowed by the WTO ruling against the U.S. Cotton program, said the issue is based on situations that existed under previous farm bills. ‘It’s about past history,’ he said. ‘Brazil is suing you over past history.’”
Christine Souza reported today at the California Farm Bureau Online that, “Don’t get too comfortable with the policies and programs contained in the current federal farm bill: That was the message that the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee brought to farmers and ranchers attending a field hearing in Fresno last week.
“Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said farmers should expect ‘fundamental changes’ in farm policy and said there will be ‘little room for the status quo’ in the next farm bill, because of budgetary pressures and a public increasingly skeptical of traditional farm programs.”
The “Washington Insider” section of DTN indicated on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Throughout much of last year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unequivocally stated and restated that cap and trade programs, such as those in the House climate change bill, would mean significant positive net benefits for agriculture. USDA staff worked under pressure to use its massive economic models, together with those from universities and elsewhere, to measure the effects of such a program — and, frankly, to build support for the legislation.
“However, when the details of these studies began to emerge and be examined critically by congressional staff and others, questions began to emerge. It appeared that the models used were based on a number of critical assumptions and focused narrowly. They appeared to say that cap and trade programs were indeed capable of raising agricultural prices and returns — but that in the cases examined, many of those benefits took place in a much reduced sector, with millions of acres diverted into ‘sequestration’ projects and planted to grasses or trees.”