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



Check out the new NRDC food waste campaign with lots of “assets” for organizers to  share on different platform. It’ll be seen via The Ad Councils strategy (which means millions of views at least), uses music from Disney’s UP movie and is a  charming and engaging take on this issue:

Sign up for Food Tank’s live stream Summit

I’m a big fan of Food Tank and thought last year’s summit was thought-provoking and lively. I kept the live stream on all day while I worked to be able to stop and take notes when necessary.

Program found here



Recognizing Workers in the Food System panel at #FoodTankSummit

Moderator: Diane Brady, Bloomberg, @dianebrady, @Bloomberg

Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, @SupportFLOC

Jose Oliva, Food Chain Workers Alliance, @foodandlabor, @foodchainworker

Melissa Perry, The George Washington University (GWU), @GWTweets

Mia Dell, United Food and Commercial Workers, @UFCW

Jeremiah Lowery, ROC United DC, @jeremiahlowery1, @ROCDC

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch, @foodandwater

Great panel at The Food Tank Summit held in DC and via live stream. The day started with Saru Jayaraman, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United (“Is it corporations or is it people?), and then Liz Shuler, National AFL-CIO (there should be “no separation between good food and good jobs) both who gave great 10-minute speeches on the need for food system organizers to join with the worker rights movements in the food industry. Notes below

Berry pickers story to begin the panel from Baldemar Velasquez:
6 am without breakfast mosquitos everywhere, swamp-like conditions and within 15 minutes, you are soaked up to your knees with bites everywhere. Being told “faster faster” by crew leaders constantly.
That berry you have in your hand (or fridge) connects you to that worker.

Jose Oliva:
Grow more of of our own food-great. But we can’t grow it all, the global food system is not going to go away by wishing it away. We do need to build a system to grow more of our own food, but we need to address the corporations that are making the exploitation of human beings and destroying the environment. Food system is addressing the issues of health and environment, but what about the labor? That is why Food Chain Workers Alliance was begun.
They have a certification initiative: HEAL Health Environment Agriculture And Labor

Melissa Perry:
Many years studying the effects of pesticides on farm labor, started with Vermont farmers. Data exists mostly on small family farms, since farmworkers are not studied very often. Meatpacking can be changed to much safer; it just needs the will, attention and funding.

Mia Dell
Represent 1.3 million workers
Had been a bit cynical about how rarely meat production worker safety is on the minds of local food advocates or farm advocates. Has since seen advocates rising up for worker safety around line speed waiver for poultry inspection.

Jeremiah Lowery
Be aware: Cafeteria workers being laid off on this campus by their corporate company
Building a massive movement in DC. Anti-GMO marches are going on yet they have not contacted worker movement organizers in DC. Let’s engage across silos.

Patty Lovera
Not representing workers, but we are in that coalition of poultry inspection rule change that Mia talked about. Making a ruckus about that issue did make a difference.
Lobbyists are writing the rules-don’t give more opportunity for these big players to get bigger. Merger Monday: seemed every Monday food companies announced merger which reduces choice and they control more of the decision making.
Fight trade agreements-we can make a difference in our local and state governments-Deregulation means companies that we can’t reach, attacking US rules on workers rights and health regulations.

(Panelists) What should we do?

•Work together on supply chain agreements (tomato campaign at Campbell Soup)
•Tobacco (and other specialty crops) workers in North Carolina-40,000 workers are fighting for right to organize.FLOC website
•Collective bargaining agreements are not just about conditions and wages; its an opening for all of us to have better food.
•Work on procurement policies everywhere. Los Angeles using HEAL metrics. Chicago and NYC are working on that, other cities are talking about this idea.
•Fund public health research along with worker health and safety research.
•Make it less convenient for consumers to ignore chemicals in food and gaps in worker safety.
•Know about products that are produced by prisoners and child slave labor: asian shrimp, cashews are two examples of use of slaves and prisoners for production- we know what products are produced this way, let’s share that.
•Cities need funding for more food policy councils which then need a component on labor, homeless, women’s rights etc.
•Diners Guides-ROC has one (print or app) to let consumers know which restaurants treat their workers well.
•We’re doing it wrong at the government level-The effects of the food companies are not being studied and laws on the books enforced well or at all. Telling the Walmarts of the world-“You’re too damn big”
Consumers cannot be the enforcer of the laws- we’re lied to too often.
Q&A piece (these are some of the answers from panel, questions not recorded)
•Lots of reports that show that higher wages will not result in higher food prices. Check out one: Dime a Day-Food service study on minimum wage and others.
•Protein consumption reports show that protein consumption has leveled out. So can we start to make changes to make that protein safer?
•We can find other ways to get protein besides meat (as it is not the best way for humans to get protein)
•Pesticides may be sprayed at lower levels on GMO crops which may protect farmworkers- but the pesticide is inserted into the seed itself which means comparable issues in eater’s health and the environment.
•Regulatory framework is controlled by the GMO companies that sell the product. Remember, biotech companies started as pesticide companies-the regulatory world is not equipped to handle current or rising scientific claims.
EFI Equitable Food Initiative-migrant workers and consumer protection joining to certify labor intensive products. Costco is signing on to this certification, still in pilot stage.

CFA study of direct sales and agritourism shows some ups and downs

From FoodTank: “On-farm enterprises that focused their business plans on local communities were labeled community-focused agriculture (CFA). This included farms that sell their produce directly to consumers and generate farm income through agritourism. According to the report, only 6.2 percent of all farms deal in direct sales, and around one percent report income from agritourism (all study figures are based on USDA statistics from 2007, the most recent year available).

Studying CFA influence on a national and county-by-county level, researchers found some surprising results. In New England and Mideast counties, regions with well-developed urban centers in proximity to CFA, direct sales increases were associated with increases in total farm sales, as well as personal income growth. Agritourism, on the other hand, was found to have a negative effect on total farm sales.

In the Southeast, increases in direct sales were associated with overall reductions in total farm sales. However, the reverse was true for the effect of agritourism on total farm sales, which was found to be positive in this region and in the Great Lakes.”

“Linkages Between Community-Focused Agriculture, Farm Sales, and Regional Growth”
Economic Development Quarterly 0891242413506610, first published on October 18, 2013

CropMobster™ | How It Works –

Here is an interesting link that came to me through the smart people at Food Tank.

An online site to help farmers sell the produce at “come and get it” prices that is not sold through their marketing outlets.

40 organizations

Food TankFood Tank, one of my favorite new think tanks, is highlighting organizations worldwide doing good work. It’s a good list, although a bit of a surprise what is here and what is not…