SNAP Update:  “Twinkies can no longer be considered bread”

      “I’m disappointed that the rules don’t go as far as what was proposed early this year,” said Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, a nutrition advocacy group. “USDA has missed an opportunity to increase the availability of and access to healthier foods for low-income Americans.”

The earlier proposals also recommended leaving food with multiple ingredients like frozen pizza or canned soup off the staple list. The outcome is a win for the makers of such products, like General Mills Inc. and Campbell Soup Co., which feared they would lose shelf space as retailers added new items to meet the requirements.

But retailers still criticized the new guidelines as too restrictive. Stores must now stock seven varieties of staples in each food category: meat, bread, dairy, and fruits and vegetables….

…More changes to the food-stamp program may lie ahead. The new rules were published a day after the House Committee on Agriculture released a report* calling for major changes to the program, which Republicans on the committee say discourages recipients from finding better-paid work.

Source: Regulators Tweak SNAP Rules for Grocers – WSJ

*Some of the findings from the 2016 Committee on Agriculture Report “Past, Present, and Future of SNAP” are below.

    • Program participation nearly doubled (up 81 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2013) as a result of the recent recession. In an average month in FY 2007, 26.3 million people (or about 9 percent of the U.S. population) were enrolled in SNAP. That increased to 47.6 million people (or about 15 percent of the U.S. population) in FY 2013, owing to the fact that the economy was slow to recover and many families remained reliant on SNAP. Even now, with a 4.6 percent unemployment rate (compared to a 9.6 percent unemployment rate for 2010), there were still 43.4 million SNAP participants as of July 2016.
    • SNAP is now a catchall for individuals and families who receive no or lower benefits from other welfare programs, largely because the eligibility criteria in SNAP are relatively more relaxed. As a result, the net effect has been to increase SNAP enrollment. For example, in the welfare reforms of 1996, the cash welfare program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was converted into a block grant known as TANF, which has rather rigorous work and activity requirements and includes a time limit. Another program available to those who are laid off from work is Unemployment Insurance (UI). These benefits require individuals to have a work history and to be fired through no fault of their own to be eligible for assistance. UI benefits are also time-limited, typically lasting six months. A third program, Federal disability benefits, requires individuals to prove they are unable to work. For many families who have not collected SNAP in the past, SNAP is now a default option for filling in the gaps.
    • USDA data shows that spending on SNAP remains three times what it was prior to the recession ($23.09 billion pre-recession average compared to $73.99 billion post-recession in FY 2015). However, SNAP spending is now projected to be significantly lower than it was estimated at passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.
    • For FY 2017, the maximum monthly benefit in the 48 contiguous states and DC is $194 for a one-person household, $357 for a two-person household, and $649 for a four-person household.17 In determining a household’s benefit, the net monthly income of the household is multiplied by 30 percent (because SNAP households are expected to spend 30 percent of their income on food), and the result is subtracted from the maximum benefit to determine the household’s benefit.
    • Seniors have the lowest rates of SNAP participation among eligible households of any demographic. While the low participation rate has a variety of causes, a prominent explanation is the stigma associated with SNAP and welfare in general. Many factors contribute to a lack of access to food among seniors, including a lack of a substantial income, the gap between Medicaid and the cost of living, limited income with specialized diets, and mental and physical illnesses.  The issues facing these populations must be viewed holistically, with SNAP as one piece of a larger solution to solving hunger for seniors.


According to research by the AARP Foundation—a charitable affiliate of AARP—over 17 percent of adults over the age of 40 are food-insecure. Among age cohorts over age 50, food insecurity was worse for the 50-59 age group, with over 10 percent experiencing either low or very low food security. Among the 60-69 age cohort, over 9 percent experienced similar levels of food insecurity, and over 6 percent among the 70+ population.

• The operation of the program is at the discretion of each state. For instance, in California, SNAP is a county-run program. In Texas, SNAP is administered by the state… Dr. Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute cited a specific example in New York City where SNAP, WIC, school food programs, and child and adult care programs are all administered by different agencies and the result is that each agency must determine eligibility and administer benefits separately.

K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Hearing of the House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture. Past, Present, and Future of SNAP. February 25, 2015. Washington, D.C.  Find report here

From CNN this week:

The number of people seeking emergency food assistance increased by an average of 2% in 2016, the United States Conference of Mayors said in its annual report Wednesday.

The majority, or 63%, of those seeking assistance were families, down from 67% a year ago, the survey found. However, the proportion of people who were employed and in need of food assistance rose sharply — increasing to 51% from 42%.

 

CNN Money report

 

Economic Assessment Toolkit-USDA

I recently attended a two day workshop on the new toolkit, conveniently held in New Orleans during the Food Distribution Research Society’s  2016 Conference: Exploring Linkages in Food Market Innovations. FDRS has a very sensible membership rate for anyone interested in research on food systems, which should be just about everyone reading my blog.

The first part of the workshop provided a general overview of the purpose and the layout of the online toolkit with time for a round of introductions from the attendees.  The gathered group (SRO by the way!) was a wonderful cross section of municipal projects, regional assessments and some feasibility/benchmark needs for newly emerging initiatives. 32 states were represented among the attendees which meant lots of networking happened in the hallways.

 

unnamed.jpg

Day 1 breakout, facilitated by toolkit team member Dr. Todd Schmit of Cornell University

 

IMG_1990.jpg

Day 1 breakout, facilitated by Dr. Dawn Thilmany the coordinator of the toolkit project.

 

The next day, one could choose either of the tracks to learn more detailed information. True to my usual m.o., I traveled between  both rooms depending on the topic being discussed.

Track A: Advanced Economic Impact Assessment

  • Review of Economic Development Principles
  • Modelling Issues to Consider in Economic Impact Analyses
  • Hands-on Customization of IMPLAN data for Analysis
  • Assessing your Community’s Efforts

Track B: Integrating Benchmarks into Your Local Food Assessment

  • Food System Typology
  • Economic Benchmarks across the Typology
  • Mapping the Range of Economic Multipliers

 

IMG_2029.jpg

The two days contained amazing detail on unpacking data for analysis when using secondary dbs such as the Ag Census. The researchers also did a great job discussing (in layperson terms)  how to think about economics within the food system as a whole and across connected sectors as well as frank discussions on sorting out long-held assumptions that one might have about data ( I find markets need this reality check as much if not more than other project leaders so do take note).

If this workshop comes to your town, I’d recommend that you invite your Extension partners and any market planning on conducting in-depth research on their own. They may even be offering some travel scholarships as they did to this one.

I am gratified to see that the work the FMC team has done for the last 5 years or so to research and adapt existing tools into the still-in-development Farmers Market Metrics training and pilot materials closely follow the same framework used by this very smart group. I think FMM will be the market-focused portion of data collection and data use that toolkits like this rely on existing in local communities that make their work easier.

With all of this attention being paid to collecting and discussing data, it is becoming more evident that practioners and researchers will have many ways to share dynamic and disciplined ideas on the impacts that local and regional food systems have on their communities. Join in, won’t you?

In case you haven’t heard of this yet, I urge you to check it out online:

USDA-AMS’ The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices

Know Your Farmer, Know Your USDA

Excellent interview with USDA/AMS Administrator, Elanor Starmer.

 

She shares the success to date and paints a picture of invigoration that includes Know Your Farmer Know your Food, Farm To School, Urban Agriculture and a wide spectrum of programs and citizen initiatives that is reaching millions.

 

 

 

 

Update your market

Hopefully, all market leaders know that the USDA directory is the go-to list for farmers markets for those within the department, for market advocates and for researchers and funders. Most media stories about markets use this link to direct shoppers to us. Additionally, all of the evaluation about markets is calculated from this directory and so if your market is not listed, the true impacts of your producers hard work and of your organizational projects cannot be measured.

Do yourself and all of us a favor: take a breather from outside for a few minutes this week and sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of tea to update the directory for your market. Market vendors: ask your market manager or lead volunteer if they have updated the list recently.

 

Dear Farmers Market Colleagues, 

Get ready, get listed! National Farmers Market week is coming (Aug 7-13) and you want people to find your market! USDA’s Local Food Directories can help you promote your farmers market. This tool will allow shoppers to quickly identify you as a supplier of the local food. It takes less than 10 minutes to add or update your listing.

 

USDA will share the number of farmers markets listed in the directory with media and stakeholders across the country during National Farmers Market Week. We want you to be counted! Time is running out!  New listings or updated information must be entered by July 15, 2016, to be included in the national numbers, so don’t delay.

 

It’s easier than ever to register!  If this is your first time listing your market in the Directory, go towww.usdadirectoryupdate.com to add your market. In less than 10 minutes you’re done.  That’s all it takes.

 

If you do not know if your farmers market is listed, then you can search the National Farmers Market Directory database to find out. If your market was in the Directory last year, we sent an e-mail during the week of June 27th that has a direct link to update your market listing.

 

Even if you listed your market last year, you should check the directory again to make sure all your information is still correct.

 

Here is how the Directory can help you

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory helps you tell customers what they want to know about your market:

  • Where and when your market opens
  • Second and third market locations that you operate
  • What products your market sells
  • If your market  accepts:
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC-FMNP)
    • Women, Infant and Children, Cash Value Vouchers (WIC-CVV)
    • Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
  • Whether or not the market acceptances debit/credit cards
  • Consumers can even get:
    • Driving directions to the market they choose to visit
    • Map markets within a radius of their current location
    • Get a state or national map of farmers markets

 

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory used by mobile application developers to help consumers find you or other markets across the nation.

 

The Directory attracted over 400,000 page views from users last year.  It’s the “go-to” resource for consumers, researchers, community planners and more to better understand the size of farmers markets across the nation.

 

Don’t delay, please be counted by including your market by July 15.

 

Thank you.

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory Team

Sweeping study of US farm data shows loss of crop diversity the past 34 years

U.S. farmers are growing fewer types of crops than they were 34 years ago, which could have implications for how farms fare as changes to the climate evolve, according to a large-scale study by Kansas State University, North Dakota State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Less crop diversity may also be impacting the general ecosystem.
“At the national level, crop diversity declined over the period we analyzed,” said Jonathan Aguilar, K-State water resources engineer and lead researcher on the study.
The scientists used data from the USDA’s U.S. Census of Agriculture, which is published every five years from information provided by U.S. farmers. The team studied data from 1978 through 2012 across the country’s contiguous states.

Source: Sweeping study of US farm data shows loss of crop diversity the past 34 years

FMPP 2015

After reading through the thumbnails on the USDA site a few times (and they are added at the end of this post), you’ll find some of my takeaways on this round of successful grants. I combed through this list a few times, and did my best to collect data correctly (!)  but do realize my numbers are not precise and may be off since I just took the data from the summaries listed.

USDA expected to fund around 190 with this round of funding and, by their count, ended up funding 163 projects.

47 states, districts and territories are represented.

California has the largest number of grants with 14 (one was listed with KS projects)

The majority of the proposals focus on simple marketing and outreach for markets. Here are the grants that specifically mention one of the following:

  • EBT/SNAP/benefit programs: 44

Farmer/vendor assistance/expansion

  • Farmer Training: 47 (“Peer-to-peer”: 2)
  • Agritourism: 15
  • GAP training: 5
  • Storage for farmers: 4
  • Food trucks: 1

Marketing outlets

  • Mobile Markets: 17
  • CSA/Market Box/Farm Stands: 20
  • Online purchasing system: 6
  • Mobile app: 3
  • Food Hubs: 2

Market upgrades

  • New market development: 16
  • Market relocation: 3
  • 501 (c) application: 2

Strategic planning

  • Analysis/data collection/measurement strategies: 13
  • Network development/support: 16 (New FM associations: 2)
  • Additional staffing: 7 (internship program development: 3)
  • Market manager certification program: 1

Marketing/Outreach

  • Bilingual materials: 7
  • Transportation to market: 3
  • Curriculum: 4
  • Cooking demos or classes: 29
  • Kids events: 10 (POP: 2)

Some other odds and ends of creativity to share that showed up at least once: inclement weather supplies for shoppers and vendors, SNAP advisory committee made up of SNAP recipients, a road show that will highlight regional farmers via traveling through region, DRIVE (Demo, Ride, Incentivize, Vary, Eat) and FORAGE (Food Oases’ Role to Advance and Generate Economies), door-to-door outreach, meal-kit CSAs, online discussions, a Latino ambassador program, expanding shoulder season products (early Spring and Fall),  a pre-purchase system that allows for the use of (SNAP) benefits, a financial analysis to review market budgets,  creating easy-to-use fillable templates for managers, direct mail campaign regarding artisan meats, a partnership with library to offer educational opportunities for vendors and consumers, culturally-appropriate public service announcements, TANF workforce assistance in production, WiFi addition, assessing agritourism readiness, a farm-to-work week, technical support for U.S. Veterans to become farm entrepreneurs, best practices of university farmers’ markets.

Some specific outcomes written into the description: fresh produce and healthy living cooking experiences to 100 neighborhoods, strategic community development action plans for each FMNP market county,  two new retail options (pop-up markets), three thriving, community-run farm stands, extending the farmers’ market to year-round, a financially self-sufficient farmers’ market, eight new points-of-sale, collaboration between fifteen Latino owned farm enterprises and five local farmers and three local food businesses.

wow. I wish everyone good luck in this round of funding and will look forward to reading the results.

Awards List, listed by state

Continue reading