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Food, Health Industry Responses To House Farm Bill Are Mixed

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The House Agriculture Committee this week unveiled its Farm Bill draft legislation to reauthorize federal agricultural and nutrition programs, and the 641-page bill covers a lot of ground.

FMI Store Manager AwardsHeather Garlich, VP of media and public relations, for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) outlined some of the highlights for The Shelby Report. In reviewing the legislation, Garlich says she “learned the legislation attempts to work to reduce fraud through an enrollment database; incentivize healthier eating via a retailer-funded incentives pilot and food insecurity nutrition incentive grants; improve efficiency via a payments gateway; and enhanced privacy protections for both store-level and customer data, while attempting to provide more transparency on shopping patterns for those items purchased with SNAP benefits.”

The bill also calls for stricter work requirements for those participating in SNAP.

“While we understand the need to continue to ensure that consumers who actually need the benefit are receiving it, we also know that dramatic changes to requirements for SNAP like work requirements or assets tests can have far reaching economic impact,” Garlich added, noting that FMI is continuing to review the bill as it works to understand and analyze the impact of the additional consumer facing requirements.

NGA logoIn its statement, the National Grocers Association also suggested that there is more work to be done.

“We applaud Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for taking this important first step in reauthorizing the Farm Bill,” said NGA President and CEO Peter Larkin. “America’s independent supermarket operators are an essential stakeholder in the federal government’s largest safety net program. As the Farm Bill process plays out, we encourage Members of Congress to preserve the strong public-private partnership between retailers and the federal government that has made the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) a success by continuing to oppose new fees, reporting mandates or other costly administrative burdens on retailers. The Agriculture Committees have done a lot of initial work up front and we look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders in both the House and Senate to ensure the voice of the independent supermarket industry is represented.”

In a joint statement, Larking and FMI President Leslie G. Sarasin outlined some of their association’s priorities at the bill moves forward.

“As work continues to reauthorize SNAP in the next Farm Bill, it’s critical that Congress protect the foundation of our partnership and resist the urge to impose additional costs or cumbersome administrative mandates on retailers,” said Larking and Sarasin. “To uphold the program’s efficiencies and keep costs down for all shoppers, we must maintain the current ban on interchange fees in SNAP, prohibit the imposition of any transaction-processing fees on retailers by state-contracted EBT processors, and oppose excessive reporting mandates or new fees.”

Read more about NGA’s priorities, including preserving consumer choice in SNAP, for this year’s Farm Bill here.

Bill faces opposition among health advocates

Retailers and industry associations aren’t the only ones with concerns about the future of SNAP. John Auerbach, president and CEO of The Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization focused on community health, released the following statement in response to the bill’s passage:

“The Trust for America’s Health is seriously concerned about the draft Farm Bill legislation released today by the House Agriculture Committee, noting that many proposals could weaken or eliminate coverage and benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

SNAP imageWhile immediate savings may seem beneficial now, they will evaporate quickly when the nation gets the bill for poor health and nutrition. In addition, when children are hungry they do more poorly in schools and, when adults are under-nourished, they are less productive in their jobs. As such, SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs can help curb healthcare costs in the future while providing immediate economic benefits to communities.

Increasingly, states, cities and other partners are piloting and scaling programs and policies that help SNAP recipients access healthier food options. Proposals that would roll back eligibility and otherwise shrink enrollment will create new health risks for a population of Americans that are already at greater risk of malnutrition. And, without nutrition supplemental programs like SNAP there may actually be increases in obesity because families will be forced to buy the least expensive food, which are often filled with excess calories and have low nutritional value. 

According to State of Obesity, obesity remains a significant public health crisis and a national security issue—being overweight or obese is the leading cause of medical disqualifications for military service, with nearly one-quarter of applicants being rejected for exceeding the weight or body fat standards.

Quite simply, while this legislation will directly harm our nation’s most valuable and vulnerable, everyone will shoulder the pain—from lack of education attainment to lack of economic development to lack of national security. 

TFAH looks forward to working with Congress and partners to help develop a Farm Bill that will benefit, not harm, Americans’ health.”

Secretary Perdue: Farm Bill is good news for producers

Sonny Perdue
Sonny Perdue (Photo: usda.gov)

In his response to the bill, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressed optimism:

“I applaud Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for their diligence and hard work in crafting the 2018 Farm Bill. The trend of low commodity prices over recent years and headlines about trade disputes have caused anxiety among agricultural producers these days, so this legislation is critically important to give them some much-needed reassurance.  In my travels across the country, I have found that farmers have confidence in President Trump’s ability to negotiate strong trade deals with other nations, but they also want a strong, bipartisan Farm Bill that puts their needs above Washington, D.C. politics. While there is still much work to be done, I am pleased that this Farm Bill aligns with many of the principles USDA released in January. I look forward to working with the Agriculture Committees and members of Congress from both sides to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill in a timely fashion to provide the needed support and certainty to our farmers. The Trump Administration has made rural prosperity a priority for the country, and a Farm Bill that works for agriculture is a key component of the agenda.”

Keep reading:

Independent Grocers Urge Congress To Oppose ‘Harvest Box’ Proposal

Grocers Gather In D.C. To Advocate For The Supermarket Industry

Industry Reacts To Bipartisan Policy Center Report On SNAP

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