Farm Bill axes ‘mean-spirited’ restrictions to SNAP proposed by House & expands coverage

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / sal73it
Getty Images / sal73it

Related tags: Farm Bill, SNAP

Public health advocates are lauding the $876bn Farm Bill passed by an overwhelming majority of the Senate on Tuesday for rejecting controversial proposals in the House version of the bill that would have significantly curtailed access to the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Association Program.

The bill​, which the House is expected to pass as early as Thursday, wipes out all of the proposed changes to SNAP in the previous version the House passed earlier this year.

These included an effort to force states to impose work requirements on some middle aged recipients and parents with children 6 to 12 years, and a proposal to eliminate ‘broad-based categorical eligibility policies’ that allowed households that qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to also automatically qualify for SNAP, even if they exceed some of the SNAP thresholds.

The final bill also protects child nutrition programs, including school meals, snacks and beverages for 30 million children, notes the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which also lauds the legislation for rejecting “mean-spirited attacks on low-income families supported by House Republicans and the Trump Administration.”

Among those programs protected by the bill is the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which CSPI says helps more than 4 million students in some of the lowest-income elementary schools.

CSPI also notes it is “pleased that the bill updates the value of the Thrifty Food Plan, which forms the basis of SNAP allotments and can help show how minimal-cost meal plans support a nutritious diet.”

In addition to eliminating House proposals, the bill modestly strengthens some aspect of coverage.

For example, the American Heart Association notes that the bill expands the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program “by providing mandatory funding and creating an education and technical assistance center that will help increase fruit and vegetable purchases and improve the nutrition of low-income families across the country.”

The legislation also for the first time provides funding for a pilot program to encourage health care providers to prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables.

Proposed coverage of multivitamins cut

In the process of axing the House’s proposed changes to SNAP coverage, the impending Farm Bill also dropped a provision that would have allowed the purchase of multivitamins with SNAP benefits – a change that disheartened many dietary supplement industry leaders.

“We note with some sadness the elimination of the House MVM provisions, truly a frustrating outcome given the level of activity the industry undertook to win its inclusion. This came despite the efforts of industry advocates,”​ a memo from the United Natural Products Alliance notes.

In it, the trade group reassures members that “we will be working with other trade associations on a go-forward plan to see if there are viable alternatives for making this important change to the SNAP program.”

National Accuracy Clearinghouse expanded

The final bill also seeks to save money within the SNAP program by expanding the National Accuracy Clearinghouse in an effort to prevent beneficiaries from receiving aid from two states simultaneously.

According to the Joint Explanatory statement, legislators recognize that most cases of duplicate benefits is not fraud related, but rather due to a household moving between states and the state failing to properly close or adjust benefits following the relocation.

“The expansion of the National Accuracy Clearinghouse will create efficiencies in the process by which States address this issue,”​ and it should not impede access to SNAP or delay certification of eligible households, according to the statement.

A few disappointments

Despite many victories in the bipartisan legislation, CSPI and AHA also voiced disappointment that the bill did not do more to enhance access to SNAP benefits.

For example, CSPI said it was disappointed that “the bill lacks specific authorizations for research funding to pilot test evidence-based approaches that could boost healthy eating while maintaining access to and limiting stigma for SNAP participants.”

AHA also was disappointed that the bill did not include a pilot program designed to improve healthy choices in SNAP, but said it is “pleased the bill takes several small, but important first steps in the right direction.”

In addition, CSPI lamented recommendations it made that did not make it into the bill, including adding diet quality as an additional core objective for SNAP, and improving and making publically available SNAP retailer data “to better inform public health interventions.”

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