More than 44 million Americans experienced food insecurity last year, the highest number since 2014, at the same time that pandemic assistance was reduced, said a USDA report on Wednesday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and anti-hunger groups called on Congress to protect funding for public nutrition programs, including WIC and SNAP.
With the end of emergency pandemic aid, monthly government spending on SNAP has fallen by more than 25 percent, to an average of $7.9 billion, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Thursday. SNAP households were receiving at least $95 less per month, the think tank said.
A decade after the House briefly put the idea into play, a senior Republican on the House Agriculture Committee said the far-ranging farm bill should be divided into two separate pieces of legislation: SNAP and everything else. SNAP, which cost $119 billion last year, has become “an emotional, political issue” that taints consideration of farm supports, said Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia.
Some 264 school districts across the nation will receive up to $150,000 apiece for projects to improve the nutritional quality of the meals served in small and rural schools, said the USDA on Monday. Nearly $30 million will be distributed through the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small.
Due to rising participation rates and food inflation, the Women, Infants, and Children program will need $7.2 billion to $7.3 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 — far above the amounts being considered by Congress, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Wednesday.
An estimated 500,000 people, more than 1 percent of current food stamp recipients, will be cut off SNAP beginning in October with the return of the 90-day limit on benefits for some able-bodied adults, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The figure may actually be closer to 1 million people, the group said.
SNAP “is in dire need of reform,” and the solution is to turn the program into a block grant that requires states to share the cost of benefits, said a group speaking for conservative House Republicans. The Republican Study Committee budget package also said lawmakers should follow former President Donald Trump’s lead to slash farm supports.
House Democrats announced their opposition to further cuts in SNAP on Wednesday amid signs the farm bill will be the next battlefront over work requirements for safety net programs. “We stand united against efforts to take food away from children, families, or any vulnerable American — in the farm bill or any legislation,” said Rep. David Scott, the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.
An exultant House Speaker Kevin McCarthy twice suggested House Republicans would seek more stringent work requirements for the government’s safety net programs now that the House overwhelmingly approved a debt ceiling bill that also limits federal spending. “Think about how much further we can go,” McCarthy told reporters.
One in six of the older Americans targeted by an expansion of SNAP work requirements in the debt ceiling bill negotiated by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden lives in California, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Wednesday.
Four of every five eligible schools in high-poverty areas have adopted the community eligibility provision, which allows them to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, said the Food Research and Action Center on Wednesday.
While four out of every five eligible Americans are enrolled in SNAP, participation in the Women, Infants, and Children program is much lower — 50 percent, say USDA data. On Thursday, the government announced $16 million in funding for 36 projects to test ways to encourage participation in WIC.
House Republicans proposed broader application of a 90-day limit on food stamps for able-bodied adults as part of the annual USDA-FDA funding bill on Wednesday. The proposal mirrors the GOP position in debt ceiling negotiations with President Biden.
House Republican leaders unveiled a 320-page bill that would cut federal spending by $130 billion in the new fiscal year, including wider application of a 90-day limit on SNAP benefits to people working less than 20 hours a week. Agriculture Committee chair Glenn Thompson said the leadership’s bill “is a sensible proposal” to rein in federal spending.
The Agriculture Department proposed an update to the WIC program on Thursday that would let participants buy three, or even four, times as many fruits and vegetables and would broaden the range of foods available through the program to reflect the diversity of the American diet. The expansion of fruit and vegetable allowances would increase WIC spending by 14 percent and require Congress to appropriate additional money to the $6 billion-a-year program.
Although lawmakers may try to cut SNAP benefits as part of the farm bill due in 2023, “we’re not going backwards,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow at a food conference on Thursday. Deadline for the bill is Sept. 30, although “oftentimes there has to be an extension. So that may happen.”
The White House forfeited its opportunity for a bipartisan outcome of its hunger conference next week, so it should expect open skepticism about its recommendations, said five senior House Republicans on Wednesday.
Nearly one of every four Democrats in the House signed a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, asking for a return to universal free school lunches and breakfasts.