Farm bill protects SNAP, other critical nutrition programs

In a bipartisan agreement announced today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed (in a 369–47 vote) a farm bill agreement that supports the food security of nearly 170,000 Hawai‘i residents through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly and is now on its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

The bipartisan bill also includes provisions that invest in our island’s rural communities, provide funding for beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers, support critical conservation programs, and advance sustainable community food systems.

Farm Bill: Who Benefits?

More than one in 10 island residents rely on SNAP to meet their nutritional needs. These individuals are almost entirely children and their parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and working people with low pay and inconsistent hours who struggle to make ends meet.

The new agreement is largely touted as a win for social justice advocates who campaigned for months against House Republican efforts to impose additional work requirements for participation in SNAP. Instead of new work requirements, the new bill includes a slight increase in funding for employment and training programs, which will help those unable to meet current work requirements find gainful employment.

Doubling Down on Nutrition Incentives

The new bill also more than doubles funding for the highly successful Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI)—which encourages SNAP shoppers to use their benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables—and establishes produce incentives as a permanent part of future farm bills. Previously funded at $100 million over five years, the new bill boosts funding to $250 million over the same time frame.

These incentives have enjoyed broad support from social justice advocates to farmers to businesses, as they are an effective way to keep federal funding circulating in the local economy. The program requires a match, prompting many states to appropriate funds out of their own budgets to draw down these additional funds—effectively tripling their investment in the local food economy.

“SNAP incentives are a win for families, farmers, and communities—there is no downside” said Hawai‘i Hunger Action Network Director Daniela Kittinger. “We need to come together as a state to ensure we can draw down as many of these federal funds as possible, and to ensure that those funds are channeled to the communities that will benefit most. This is an investment opportunity we don’t want to miss.”

Looking Ahead

The nutrition title of the farm bill includes other provisions that should be celebrated. Notably, there is an increase in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) which provides funds to purchase food to the state’s four food banks. In addition, there is expanded access to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (commonly called “Senior Produce Boxes), a requirement to re-authorize the Thrifty Food Plan every five years, a modest increase in an existing “farm to food bank” program, and improvements that will aid the affordability of EBT machines for farmers’ markets.

Hawai‘i Appleseed, through its Hawai‘i Hunger Action Network, will be working to ensure that Hawai‘i takes full advantage of these, and other, programs in the months ahead.

Hawai‘i’s congressional delegates have long been supporters of SNAP, and we commend them for working together, across party lines, to protect these critical programs and ensure that people across the islands will still be able to use SNAP to feed themselves and their families. As we enter the holiday season, that is something we can all be grateful for and celebrate.