Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest
Mask mandates are lifting but the longstanding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic persist. While pandemic supports are being scaled back, Congress continues to play a key role in mitigating food insecurity through the 2023 Farm Bill. Friday, April 29th, kicks off the first field hearing at Michigan State University. The Farm Bill, which houses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a critical opportunity to continue pandemic recovery and transform food environments to support nutrition security.
COVID-19 drove record high rates of food insecurity, with 30 million families not able to afford enough food to eat at the pandemic’s peak in December 2020. This reality was even more stark for Black and Latine households who experienced food insecurity at more than twice the rate of white households. Food insecurity is a major contributor to increased U.S. health expenditures which have risen since 1970 from 6.9% to 17.7%. It is estimated that food insecure adults pay $1,834 more in health expenditures – a cost that disproportionately burdens Black, Latine, and Indigenous households due to longstanding structural racism.
For shoppers using SNAP, price increases put strain on already tight budgets. Even with a long overdue SNAP benefit increase, families still face high unemployment levels and grocery prices are 10% higher than they were last March.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that Congress is capable of making significant resources available to strengthen our country’s food infrastructure. Based on feedback from SNAP participants, CSPI calls on Congress to make the following changes to SNAP:
Increase benefits to align with actual food costs through updating SNAP allocation to be based on the Low-Cost Food Plan instead of the Thrifty Food Plan. At a minimum Congress should protect the update to the Thrifty Food Plan.
Make purchasing fruits and vegetables easier by strengthening GusNIP fruit and vegetable incentives. Congress should increase funds to expand the program, reduce or remove grant match requirements to distribute the funding more equitably, and invest in strategies such as EBT integration to make the program more effective.
Improve access to SNAP grocery delivery by raising awareness for current online options while simultaneously creating a technical assistance center to expand retailer participation. Reimbursing farmers, smaller retailers, and independent retailers for SNAP delivery and service fees and requiring authorized larger retailers and their e-commerce vendors to waive delivery and service fees for SNAP orders that exceed a minimum amount would lower the burden of food costs on shoppers and encourage more retailers to participate.
Improve shopping environments through re-examining the retailer authorization process, strengthening stocking standards to improve staple food availability, and reducing commercial marketing of foods that do not align with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Understand program and policy impact on nutrition security through strengthened nutrition security metrics. Defined metrics for evaluation will help assess impact of policies and programs – improving our food system in the long term.
Invest in projects that increase access to healthy food without increased stigma through investing $100 million in demonstration projects, as recommended by The Bipartisan Policy Center. Projects should test innovative strategies such as marketing guidelines for retailers, including hot and prepared foods, exploring further benefit boosts, and testing incentives for nutritious food combined with disincentives for ultra-processed foods.
The upcoming Farm Bill is an exciting opportunity to support shoppers during critical pandemic recovery, but also to build towards a reality where health is at the forefront of food policy.
This blog post was authored by Amy Nelms, Senior Policy Associate for Healthy Food Access at CSPI.