Food stamp advocates clash over healthy spending, work rules

Weeks ahead of the White House summit on reducing hunger nationwide, food aid advocates are divided over how and whether to limit access to the government’s largest nutrition aid program.

The tug of war was on display Tuesday, with an independent task force looking at ways to improve American diets through supplemental nutrition assistance programs reaching nearly 40 million people. Debate over SNAP, formerly known as food stamps Firefighters include whether to limit recipients and the food they can buy.

Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the Tufts School of Nutrition and Co-Chair of the Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, said:

A White House meeting scheduled for next month sets ambitious goals to end hunger, increase healthy eating and get more Americans to exercise by 2030. Mandated by Congress in the Appropriations Bill (Public Law 117-103), it seeks to stem the steady increase. Diet-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity—currently affect more than 40% of U.S. adults. The Biden administration has yet to issue its own recommendations for food programs.

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A sign warning customers about SNAP food stamp benefits at a grocery store in Brooklyn, New York on December 5, 2019.

Nutrition programs like SNAP were largely shaped by the First Hunger Conference at the White House in 1969. In the fifty years since then, no such summit has been held, and next month’s meeting will motivate various issue groups to compete over 21st century priorities.

The task force report agreed to use federal nutrition programs such as SNAP and school lunches to promote healthier eating. But members, including researchers, advocates and former government officials, were divided on how difficult these goals would be to push forward.

food dessert

The ubiquity of highly processed, low-cost foods has prompted policymakers to limit the items that can be purchased using SNAP dollars, such as excluding sugar-sweetened beverages that lack nutritional benefits. The idea is emerging. Those in favor of adding restrictions say a state-level pilot program to test the idea and incentives to buy healthier foods could help reduce diet-related illnesses linked to sugary drinks. I said it is possible.

Some say tightening restrictions on low-income Americans, who often live in food deserts with limited options, will only add stress and stigma to the program.

READ MORE: Lingering ‘food dessert’ spark calls for more federal help

Studies have shown that lower incomes are associated with higher rates of obesity and other nutrition-related conditions. But the federal government can’t solve the nutrition problem for low-income Americans by “controlling what the poor can access,” said Feeding America’s chief government relations officer. “It would violate the sovereignty, dignity and autonomy of people suffering from food insecurity,” said Vince Hall.

Instead, many who oppose the added SNAP restrictions believe that increasing benefits will encourage low-income Americans to buy healthier, fresher foods instead of processed foods that are easier on their wallets. The task force will evaluate SNAP levels every five years and adjust for inflation to help recipients buy healthier foods. We agreed to make sure we got what we needed.

Read more: Rotisserie chicken and food stamps?Lift the ban, lawmakers say

Work rules, immigration access

The work requirements to receive SNAP benefits also split the task force, with some members saying it created an unnecessary burden, while others argued it was suitable for children and adults without disabilities.

The requirement that non-disabled childless adults must have a job or be in vocational training to receive food stamps was waived at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Republicans in Congress want the labor requirement back, saying the job market is recovering and recipients should be able to comply.

“These work requirements were established on a bipartisan basis. They were bipartisan and waived due to the COVID emergency. They should be reinstated with bipartisan support,” said senators. said. John Boozman (R-Ark.), a ranking member of the Agriculture Commission, said in a statement earlier this month.

However, some task force members suggested that the waiver should be made permanent.

“They pointed out that unemployment is where SNAP is particularly needed, and that the need for jobs is a major concern for low-income college students and some rural and tribal people living in areas with limited employment opportunities. It claimed to place an undue burden on groups such as residents, the report says.

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Members were also divided on whether to allow undocumented immigrants to receive SNAP benefits. Current policy requires immigrants to have five years of legal permanent residency to qualify.

The task force agreed to expand SNAP’s eligibility and remove some administrative hurdles. Recommendations included simplifying applications for adults over the age of 60, making it easier for active duty soldiers to obtain food stamps, and reducing starvation rates in the military.

Barriers to getting nutritional assistance, especially for older people, have long been a focus of anti-hunger advocates. No,” said MAZON president Abby Liveman: The Jewish Response to Hunger.

READ MORE: US Military Starving at Higher Than Average Rate, Survey Shows (2)

competing voices

The White House should align competing priorities at its September meeting.

Mozaffarian, co-chair of the task force, said, “If the anti-hunger and pro-nutrition groups are unaware that they are on the same team and pit them against each other, it could hinder the success of the conference.

Anti-hunger lobbyists and groups also say they have not yet received much on the agenda and dates of the conference, beyond what is scheduled for September.

The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment on details of the meeting.

“We really don’t know what’s being proposed and discussed, other than the information that’s publicly available on their website,” said a consultancy firm at a health, aging-focused organization. said Meredith Whitmire, vice president of Mutts, Brancato & Associates. , and nutrition.

Still, others are optimistic given the success of the 1969 conference and the proximity of this summit, where Congress will work on next year’s Farm Bill to reauthorize federal nutrition programs like SNAP. The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2023.

Bob Brancato, president of the consultancy firm and former organizer of the 1995 White House Conference on Aging, was confident the event would go together. Now that Congress has approved the summit, he expects lawmakers to enthusiastically implement any recommendations that come out of it.

“We also recognize that there is a very important Farm Bill, including many nutrition issues, due to be introduced to Congress in 2023, and some work in that area is currently underway.” “So I think there’s reason to be optimistic,” he said in an interview.

To contact the reporter of this article: Maeve Sheehay in Washington [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Robin Mesory and [email protected]; Anna Yukhanov and [email protected]

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