Some 600,000 parents and young children would be denied WIC benefits under USDA funding bills pending in the House and Senate, said the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Thursday. “The eligible people who would be put on waiting lists are disproportionately in Black and Hispanic families,” said a CBPP blog.
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.
To pay for farm bill priorities such as crop subsidies, House Agriculture chairman Glenn Thompson suggested $50 billion in cuts, mostly to climate change and public nutrition programs that are strongly supported by Democratic lawmakers. The proposal, quickly rejected, pointed to long-running disagreements over the farm bill with time running out for action this year.
The Biden administration is taking a two-step approach to supplying enough money for the Women, Infants, and Children food program to meet larger-than-expected enrollment, said the White House on Wednesday.
The “very difficult” politics of SNAP are among the greatest obstacles to passing the new farm bill, said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow on Wednesday. The Michigan Democrat is a stalwart defender of public nutrition programs in a year when House Republicans want to apply a 90-day limit on food stamps to a greater number of recipients.
The price tag for SNAP is going up so quickly — doubling during the pandemic — that it will poison support for the farm subsidy and land stewardship programs that make up the rest of the farm bill, said the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday. “You are going to crowd out our ability ... to use funds on other programs,” said Arkansas Sen. John Boozman.
Congress would dismember the farm bill if it adopted the ideas proposed by the conservative Republican Study Committee, whose membership includes four of every five Republicans in the House. In a budget package, the RSC said it would sever public nutrition programs from the farm bill, eradicate major farm supports and slash federal support of crop insurance.
The House and Senate passed different versions of a slimmed-down $3 billion extension of school nutrition waivers within hours of each other on Thursday, leaving to the House a final vote on the legislation on Friday. “I look forward to the president signing this into law,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow.
While Republicans objected to the cost of public nutrition programs such as SNAP, the leader of the House Appropriations Committee said on Wednesday that “we will be doing something about extending the waivers of the school meals programs.” The waivers, a response to the pandemic that allows free meals for all public school students, are due to expire on June 30.
After decades of fighting hunger with food stamps, WIC, and school lunch, the USDA will raise its aim to nutrition security, meaning consistent access to healthful foods for all Americans, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday. The new approach will rely on food education and outreach to neglected groups as well as stronger nutrition standards in federal food programs.
The Biden administration appointed Cindy Long as administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service on Monday, a position she has held on an acting basis since early January.
The USDA said Thursday it would buy $159.4 million worth of U.S.-produced seafood, nuts, fruits, and vegetables for its public nutrition programs, including donations to charity. The deal includes the agency's single largest purchase of seafood ever.
Sen. Cory Booker, the new chairman of the Senate nutrition subcommittee called for a permanent food box program to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to communities "in desperate need for healthy produce." Booker also said $20 billion a year should be devoted to USDA climate mitigation programs and that a moratorium should be imposed on mergers in the agricultural sector.(No paywall)
The Biden administration announced the appointment of three USDA deputy undersecretaries on Thursday: Stacy Dean for nutrition, Justin Maxson for rural development, and Mae Wu for marketing and regulatory programs.
President-elect Joe Biden's selection of Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary angered farm and food activists who feuded with Vilsack during the Obama years and had hoped for a progressive agenda under Biden. The largest U.S. farm groups welcomed Vilsack on Wednesday as an experienced leader for the recovery from the trade war and the pandemic.
Senate Republicans will ignore the "unserious" $3-trillion coronavirus relief bill passed along party lines by the House in favor of steps such as liability shields for employers, said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The House bill included $16.5 billion for cash payments to farmers and ranchers, double the amount in the package now awaiting approval by the White House budget office.(No paywall)
The USDA has issued waivers to 43 states that make it easier for schools to provide food to low-income children who lost access to free or reduced-price meals due to coronarvirus closures, said a spokesman on Wednesday. An anti-hunger group called for more flexible treatment and speedy handling of the burgeoning number of applications for food stamps. (No paywall)
Rebuffed in negotiations on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she will try again to raise SNAP benefits when Congress writes its next coronavirus bill. The House was scheduled to vote on the $2 trillion bill today. "I anticipate, I am certain, we will have a strong bipartisan vote," said Pelosi. (No paywall)