The big news out of Congress last week was the United States House of Representatives release H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, often referred to as the “farm bill.” The farm bill is a multi-year piece of legislation that comprehensively addresses agriculture, food, nutrition, hunger, and public health policies. These programs were last reauthorized in 2014 and will expire later this year.
You may ask, why does the association care about the Farm Bill? This bill doesn’t just impact farmers, but every American household. Farm bill policies can improve access to healthy foods and make them more affordable for consumers, which are important to improving health outcomes and ensuring a strong economy. The farm bill sets policy for a variety of programs, including the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, which provides food purchasing assistance for low and no-income people across the country. In addition, SNAP spending constitutes 80 percent of the farm bill.
The 2018 House farm bill is considered highly partisan, in large part due to provisions that would change eligibility criteria for SNAP. The farm bill is a long and nuanced piece of legislation, and the association is still evaluating the potential implications for our priorities. While there are a few bright spots in the bill, the bill contains several unfavorable policies that would negatively affect vulnerable populations and health outcomes. You can read our press release on the bill here.
Some of the most controversial aspects of the bill are centered on the proposed eligibility provisions that many fear will take SNAP benefits away from millions struggling Americans. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office suggests at least one million would be removed from the program, and five to seven million would be impacted. The data shows that SNAP plays a vital role in providing food security to more than 45 million vulnerable and underemployed individuals, which in turn positively impacts health and economic self-sufficiency. The association is also disappointed to see that the House proposal includes a call to reduce funding for nutrition education, as well undermining the integrity of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).
There are a few aspects of the bill that the association was pleased to see. First, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program receives an increase in funding and established a baseline by 2023. Language was also included for the creation of a training, evaluation, and information center, and to prioritize grantees who coordinate with a variety of stakeholders and offer year-round access to an incentive program. In addition, there is provision to collect SNAP purchasing data from retail stores, which makes it easier to collect consistent information on what types of food and beverage items SNAP participants are choosing.
The 2018 farm bill is process is far from finished. The House Agriculture Committee will consider the bill on Wednesday, April 18 and if it passes, it will then be voted on by the entire House of Representatives. The Senate has not yet released their version of the bill but is expected to do so sometime this summer. The association will continue to monitor the situation and we ask that you please be on the lookout for ways to use your voice to protect vulnerable Americans and to ensure health and diet quality remains a priority for Congress as the bill moves through the legislative process. To quickly sign up for alerts on the farm bill and other nutrition related issues that the American Heart Association is handling, as well as quick and easy ways to support related advocacy campaigns please text SNAP to 46839.