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2018 Federal Fiscal Budget Proposal Includes Possible Impacts to SNAP Benefits, USDA Programs

On May 23rd, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget. At the time of writing, Reuters reported that the budget proposes $3.6 trillion in cuts “over the next decade, taking aim at healthcare and food assistance programs for the poor.” At the time of writing, the legislative branch had just started their committee hearings on the proposed budget. 

To find out what this means for our Co-op, we researched what cuts are in the budget pertaining to food and looked into what organizations we support had to say about the potential changes.

USDA Budget Proposal: 21% Reduction Overall

The proposed budget includes a 21 percent reduction for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Agriculture Committee Chairpersons Senator Pat Roberts and Representative K. Michael Conaway issued a statement claiming they “will fight to ensure farmers have a strong safety net so this key segment of our economy can weather current hard times and continue to provide all Americans with safe, affordable food. Also, as a part of Farm Bill discussions, we need to take a look at our nutrition assistance programs to ensure they are helping the most vulnerable in our society.” 

According to Marketplace, the proposed cuts up for legislative debate come from “reducing farm subsidies by billions of dollars… and eliminating several USDA programs, including the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, and the Rural Water and Waste program.” According to Richard Leach, President and CEO of the World Food Program USA (WFP), the McGovern-Dole International Food For Education and Child Nutrition Program, as well as the Emergency Food Security Program and the Feed the Future agricultural development initiative (which are also facing cuts in the proposed budget) “represent the core of the U.S. global food security response… Stepping back from global leadership in the fight to alleviate hunger would foster greater global instability and lead to unnecessary suffering in a time of unprecedented humanitarian need.” WFP is a global nonprofit that has benefited from two disaster relief campaigns at the Co-op that resulted in over $62,000 in combined aid after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2014 and the earthquakes in Nepal in 2015.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says that several USDA farm programs also face possible elimination: the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion and Specialty Crop Block Grants, and the Organic Transitions Program. The president of National Farmers Union (NFU), Roger Johnson, stated that the “proposed budget is an assault on the programs and personnel that provide vital services, research and a safety net to America’s family farmers, rural residents, and consumers.” Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation, a nonprofit member of Community Shares of Wisconsin and also a Community CHIP benefactor at the Co-op, is also a member of the NFU.  

$194 billion in cuts are also proposed for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) according to Michael Young, the USDA’s acting deputy secretary. In Wisconsin, SNAP is the FoodShare/QUEST benefit program. CNBC reported that some proposed savings to SNAP include possibly requiring states to match federal benefits up to 25 percent, tightening some of the eligibility requirements, capping large household benefits to a maximum of six family members, and charging more fees to retailers who redeem SNAP benefits (your Co-op redeems SNAP benefits at all three retail locations). The cuts would amount to shifting nearly $250 million in SNAP benefit costs to Wisconsin each year, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. 

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is also facing a proposed $1 billion in cuts, though according to the National WIC Association, this reduction amounts to previously unspent funds. In a statement, they said, “While this funding level is significantly less than FY 2016 and 2017, we expect that it will be sufficient to meet projected caseload needs in FY 2018.” They cited a lag in WIC participation, low food-cost inflation, cost-containment strategies that reduce program costs, high levels of rebates, and average monthly food costs remaining flat as reasons they see the proposed WIC funding levels as sufficient. 

SNAP Benefits the Local Economy

Your Co-op has been a long-time supporter of the SNAP (FoodShare/QUEST), and we offer customers an opportunity to apply to receive SNAP benefits in the stores with a representative from Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin on a monthly basis. According to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), SNAP is linked to the economy in two ways: “SNAP expenditures stimulate economic activity during an economic downturn, and economic conditions affect caseloads and expenditures.” The better the economic conditions, the less people use SNAP benefits because they are less needed. When economic conditions take a downturn, more people use SNAP, and those expenditures stimulate the economy. More simply put: when a person faces economic strife, SNAP benefits can help increase their ability to make food purchases. When they make food purchases that they otherwise may not have been able to make, it increases economic activity for the producers of the goods and services purchased, as well as for of the retail, wholesale, and transportation systems that deliver these goods and services. That means that the economic impact of utilizing SNAP is greater than its initial cost. USDA-ERS claims “An increase of $1 billion in SNAP expenditures is estimated to increase economic activity (GDP) by $1.79 billion. In other words, every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 of economic activity.” You can learn more about the stimulus effects of SNAP at s.coop/usdasnap.  

Your Co-op, thanks to Second Harvest, has helped over 35 people complete applications for SNAP benefits in stores, which, according to Second Harvest, will generate over $93,860 in economic activity, or over 20,246 meals. 

Nonprofit Partners Weigh In On Potential SNAP Reductions

Second Harvest is part of the Feeding Wisconsin and Feeding America networks of food banks. Both the state and national organizations have issued statements regarding the proposed FY 2018 Federal Budget. Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America, stated that SNAP “is the cornerstone of our nation’s assurance that no one should go hungry,” and that the proposed cuts “break that assurance.” Regarding states matching a portion of the federal benefits, Aviv says “that would lead to at least 45 billion meals being taken away from those in need, which would be higher if the states are unable to fill their share,” and “would necessarily lead to a reduction in meals, or complete loss of benefits, for millions of low-income working families, the elderly, veterans, and the unemployed.” The executive director for Feeding Wisconsin, David Lee, defines SNAP as “an important nutrition assistance program that helps to strengthen communities by providing families with low-incomes a bit of assistance to ensure that they have the food they need to work, learn, and get their lives back on track.” Lee has put out a call to action: “It is very important that you get in touch with your members of Congress to let them know that you do not support the President’s budget and that you want them to work towards a budget that fights for hunger, not one that would increase hunger.” 

Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF), another nonprofit supported by Community CHIP, claims that the SNAP cuts proposed in the FY 2018 Federal Budget target “the elderly, working families, and workers struggling to find a job.” Research Director Jon Peacock asks that our federal representatives not only oppose the Federal Budget as proposed, but also “oppose any Congressional budget plan that follows the same architecture and slashes support for children and families. They must oppose cuts to assistance that helps hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites achieve a basic living standard.” 

What You Can Do

If the cuts proposed to the USDA and SNAP in the proposed FY 2018 Federal Budget are a concern for you,the best way you can act is by getting involved with organizations that are taking action regarding these issues and by contacting your representatives. 

To find out how NFU rates congress members’ votes on farm policy issues, you can view their Congressional Scorecard at nfu.org/scorecard/. Their website also allows for you to sign up to receive updates on their efforts. 

Feeding Wisconsin has a public policy and advocacy page at www.feedingwi.org/publicpolicy. There you can learn more about both state and federal policy that impacts hunger, including updates on the Federal Budget process. You can also sign up at this link to become a “hunger fighter” and be added to their newsletter and advocate list. If you’re unsure
of who your state and federal representatives are, Feeding Wisconsin has a link for that too, just go to action.feedingwi.org/o/51331/getLocal.jsp. 

WCCF’s homepage has a “Take Action” menu, where you can sign up for action alerts, review their legislative advocacy guide to learn about how to effectively communicate with your representatives, or find your legislators. Find out more at www.wccf.org

WFP is also organizing advocacy campaigns to oppose the FY 2018 Federal Budget as written, and you can find a link to email your congressional representatives a pre-written and modifiable message at wfpusa.org/help/advocate/.  

All four of these organizations, as well as Feeding America, Second Harvest, and Wisconsin Farmers Union take donations online as well, if you wish to make a direct contribution to their efforts. 

Thank You For Supporting SNAP Benefits Participants Through Double Dollars

 

The Double Dollars program at participating farmers’ markets and the Co-op were piloted thanks to the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant (FINI). The program helps SNAP (FoodShare/QUEST) benefit participants receive additional support in purchasing fresh foods throughout the year. To date, the Co-op has not heard whether the USDA FINI Grant Program is part of the proposed cuts to the USDA’s budget, or whether future pilots of nutrition incentive projects may be funded by federal food and nutrition programs. You help us keep this important program alive when you make contributions to the Double Dollars Fund through scan cards or by reusing bags when you shop. Thanks to the Madison Area Chefs Network and Yum Yum Fest, your contributions from May 30th-June 20th were doubled, and together, we raised $10,478.22! We appreciate your continued support and your advocacy for a more food secure community. 

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