Spring 2014
PERSPECTIVE

New Farm Bill Fights Hunger, Invests in Local Communities

By The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture serves as the 30th United States Secretary of Agriculture. As leader of the Department of Agriculture, Vilsack is working to strengthen the agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities and create jobs and opportunity in rural America.
New Farm Bill Fights Hunger, Invests in Local Communities
We are fortunate as a nation that our farmers and ranchers grow enough to meet and even exceed our food needs. We produce enough food that no American should ever have to worry about whether they will have enough to eat.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that many families across our nation do sometimes struggle to put food on the table.

During tough times, many turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for help. Thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill, SNAP continues to be available to help families get access to safe, affordable, nutritious food.

In the months leading up to the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, I spoke at length about this legislation as a food, farm, and jobs bill—legislation that would invest in American agriculture, provide access to nutritious food to those who need it, and create jobs and economic growth, while achieving meaningful savings for taxpayers.

That does not mean that this bill is perfect—no legislation is. Under the new farm bill, Congress made changes that may impact the amount of SNAP benefits some families receive.

I want to emphasize that the vast majority of SNAP recipients will not be impacted by this change. For those recipients who are affected, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is deeply committed to ensuring that all households get the full amount of assistance for which they are eligible.

Beyond this change though, the farm bill also makes considerable investments in SNAP, particularly when it comes to helping recipients reenter the workforce. 

Today, 42% of SNAP participants live in households where at least one person is working—a historic high. Clearly, SNAP recipients do want to work, and additional job training and education can help them find available jobs.

The farm bill provides approximately $350 million to states annually for employment and training programs for SNAP recipients. The purpose of these programs is to help transition people from SNAP in the right way—by helping recipients build comprehensive skill sets and matching them with the good paying jobs they need to be able to move forward.

The new farm bill builds on this program by allocating an additional $200 million for work-related pilot projects run by states to test the effectiveness of alternative training methods. These projects will be designed to increase the number of work registrants who obtain employment, increase their earned income, and reduce their reliance on public assistance.

This strategy can work. Recent projections indicate SNAP costs are beginning to level off and are projected to fall further in the coming years, a result of the continuing economic recovery and fewer families needing the program. In the meantime, SNAP helps families put healthy food on the table as they work to move off the program.

Here too, the 2014 Farm Bill provides additional resources. As you know, almost all Americans need to improve their diets, and SNAP participants are no different. The farm bill gives the USDA new tools to empower SNAP recipients to make healthy choices.

The new farm bill provides $100 million for test projects designed to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by providing incentives to SNAP recipients at the point of purchase. This is a model similar to the Double Up Food Bucks project, which the Fair Food Network operates at farmers markets and certain grocery stores in the state of Michigan, or Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

Early results from USDA research on incentive-based efforts to improve healthy food purchases, show that – once the incentive is fully implemented – an ongoing investment of less than 15 cents per person per day may help adults consume about one-fifth cup (about an ounce) more fruits and vegetables per day.

While we are on the topic of access to healthy food, I would like to take a moment to ask for your support for another vital nutrition program that can help many children in your state get the nutrition they need. Although not a part of the Farm Bill, USDA's summer meals program helps to ensure that low-income children who rely on school meals can get nutritious food during the summer months.

This program only works with the support of state and community partners like you. I encourage you as leaders in your states and communities to be a champion for children in your community: sponsor a summer feeding proclamation in your legislatures, convene town hall meetings, and encourage schools and local organizations to become summer feeding sites where kids can go to receive a healthy meal.

Programs like SNAP and summer meals do more than just provide food. They improve national health by allowing families with few resources to access a wider variety of healthy foods. They reinforce consistent, comprehensive messages about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. Additionally, these programs help adults develop and expand skill sets that will empower them to reenter the workforce, which ultimately contributes to the country’s economic recovery.

These programs make a real and perceptible difference in the lives of children and their families, and ensure a brighter, healthier future for the entire country. Whether you represent and advocate on behalf of rural Minnesotans or those living in downtown Atlanta, together, we can rise to the challenge of combating hunger and food insecurity in our communities.
The Honorable Tom  Vilsack

Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture serves as the 30th United States Secretary of Agriculture. As leader of the Department of Agriculture, Vilsack is working to strengthen the agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities and create jobs and opportunity in rural America.

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