Budget Effects on SNAP

Nearly all of the information in this post comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities April 11th report, “Ryan budget would slash SNAP funding by $127 billion over ten years” by Dorothy Rosenbaum as well as from the Mass Law Reform Institute, convener of the Boston SNAP Coalition.    

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan would cut the SNAP program (formerly food stamps) by $127 billion – almost 20% – over the next tens years (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).  Besides proposing turning the program into a block grant, he hasn’t provided details on how the cuts would be achieved.

Nationwide, there are currently 44 million people receiving SNAP.  If the cuts came solely from eliminating eligibility categories of currently eligible households or individuals, more than 8 million people would need to be cut from the program.

If cuts were applied to amount of benefits families receive, all families of four would see their benefits cut by $147 a month, or $1,764 a year.  A family of three would be subject to cuts of $116 per month, or $1,392 a year.  That is money that would be spent at local grocery stores and farmers’ markets and would have a negative economic impact on local economies.

The growth in SNAP expenditures over the past three years is a result of the economic recession, not the result of a program that has grown out of control.  People receiving SNAP benefits are often low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.   Currently 43.6 million Americans live below the poverty line, with is roughly $22,350 for a family of four.  93% of all SNAP benefits are going to these households.  Three-quarters of SNAP participants are in families with children; one third are in households that include senior citizens or people with disabilities.   Cutting benefits from these households will not improve our communities, our economies, our health as a nation, or our education systems.  These cuts have the ability to negatively impact all of these.

As Pat Baker of the Mass Law Reform Institute points out, the SNAP caseload in Massachusetts has increased by more than 300% since 2002 (now exceeding 800,000 participants) while SNAP staff at the DTA office has decreased by more than 30% during this same time period.  As a result, the SNAP caseload has surged to more than 1,000 per SNAP worker in many offices across the Commonwealth.  At the state level, we do not need to see more cuts to the DTA administration that is administering this federally funded program.

The economic benefits that the state sees as a result of the SNAP program are outstanding.  For every $1 in administrative costs that the state spends, the Commonwealth leverages at least $50 in 100% federally funded nutrition benefits.  These go directly into the hands of local grocers, supermarkets, and farmers – people that are the very base of our economy.

At both the federal and the state level we need to see responsible funding of SNAP benefits and the administration process that delivers these benefits.

On Monday, April 4th Congressman McGovern spoke on the House floor against these cuts.

Today, the House will be voting on the 2012 budget.   Mass congressmen McGovern, Frank, and Markey have stood up against these cuts.  You can call the Capital Switchboard toll free at 1-888-245-0215 to get ahold of your congressperon and ask him/her to stand up against these cuts as well.

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Agriculture Day and the MA Food Policy Council

Yesterday was Agriculture Day at the State House, and according to Scott Soares it was the best one he’s ever been to in terms of the number of people and the amount of enthusiasm around local agriculture.

Governor Deval Patrick proclaimed himself a “foodie” and spoke about the importance of having healthy, Mass. grown food available to people throughout the state.  Though the Governor did not announce the policy council during his address as was planned, the following press release came out yesterday announcing the Council as well as some of the appointees – Jeff Cole and Frank Carlson are both from Central Massachusetts!

DEVAL L. PATRICK

GOVERNOR

TIMOTHY P. MURRAY

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

April 07, 2011 – For immediate release:

PATRICK-MURRAY ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES ESTABLISHMENT OF MASSACHUSETTS FOOD POLICY COUNCIL

Council announced during Massachusetts Agricultural Day to improve state’s food system goals

BOSTON – Thursday, April 7, 2011 – During Massachusetts Agricultural Day at the State House, Governor Deval Patrick today announced the establishment of the Massachusetts Food Policy Council to advance the goals of bringing healthy, local foods to all residents of the Commonwealth.”I am proud to announce the establishment of the Massachusetts Food Policy Council,” said Governor Patrick. “This new Council will be responsible for coordinating our statewide food and agricultural policy, and providing new, focused leadership for this critical sector of our economy.”Following the passage of Chapter 277 of the Acts of 2010, an “Act Establishing the Massachusetts Food Policy Council”, the Council was formed to develop recommendations that will advance food system goals and also align communication and coordination between state agencies to achieve these goals.

Increased communication and collaboration between state agencies will be an essential component to the work of the Food Policy Council. In partnership with the Food Policy Council, Governor Patrick has tasked Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray to lead and coordinate the state’s efforts to address hunger in Massachusetts.

“Hunger continues to be a major crisis facing many families, with over 615,000 people in Massachusetts at risk every day,” said Lt. Governor Murray. “As the Food Policy Council comes together to focus on providing healthy foods, coordinating existing food resources, and streamlining the delivery of services, we can also help families in need gain access to available resources and benefits that will help end hunger in the Commonwealth.”

In addition to focusing on ending hunger, legislation calls for the council to focus on achieving the following four goals: (1) increased production, sales and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods; (2) the development and promotion of programs that deliver healthy Massachusetts-grown goods to Massachusetts residents; (3) the protection of the land and water resources required for sustained local food production; and (4) the training, retention and recruitment of farmers and providing for the continued economic viability of local food production, processing and distribution in the Commonwealth.

The Food Policy Council was launched today during Massachusetts Agricultural Day at the State House. Governor Patrick and Administration officials joined farmers, agriculture officials, and state legislators from across the Commonwealth to discuss issues affecting their farms and communities. The event also included the “Taste of Massachusetts” reception, where state farm and specialty food products were showcased.

“Food is among the most universal needs for our residents, and unfortunately, signs of increased food insecurity appear in Boston and across the Commonwealth,” said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. “I have pushed for the establishment of a statewide food policy council to help provide better access to healthy and affordable foods in our schools, households, and neighborhoods.”

“We want to promote health and vitality for all of our citizens, and the Food Policy Council will help lead the way. Local food production helps grow the economy, reduce pollution, and is a sure fire way to help people live well,” said Senator Susan Fargo.

“I am very pleased that Governor Patrick has moved forward with the formation of the MA Food Policy Council. This Council will develop and promote programs that bring healthy local foods to Massachusetts residents and increase access to those foods in communities that are disproportionately affected by obesity and chronic diseases. The use of Massachusetts agriculture will also support local small business throughout our commonwealth,“ said Representative Linda Dorcena Forry.

Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Julia Kehoe, and Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Scott J. Soares are among the ex-officio members of the Council. Governor-appointed members, including: John Lee of Carlisle, Manuel Costa of Winchester, Jeffrey Cole of Sutton, Franklyn Carlson of Harvard, and Valerie Bassett of Jamaica Plain will be sworn in at the Council’s first meeting. Once convened, members will elect a chair of the Council for a term not to exceed two years.

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MA School Nutrition Guidelines

Recently, the Department of Public Health released the proposed nutrition standards for the School Nutrition Bill (passed in 2010).  These regulations would do more than any other state in ensuring that our children are provided the safest most nutritious food possible while in school.  Nearly 1 million Massachusetts children will be affected by this every day and we know the potential change these regulations can make in the food environment of their schools.

Generally, we feel that the proposed DPH standards combine common sense with the best science and will protect student’s health.  We see a few ways the standards could be strengthened, and yet we also understand that there is some opposition to pieces of the standards.  In developing written testimony in support of the standards, we’ve spoken with partners such as the Worcester Public Schools, School Committee members and parents, the Mass Public Health Association and partners in the Act FRESH Campaign from across the state.  We wanted to share with all of you some of our thoughts, as well as some of the testimony from other folks in the field.

We agreed with many school food advocates that the sugar content allowed in snacks and desserts should be modified so that total sugar may not exceed 20% of calories and 9g sugar per portion as served, as opposed to the 35%  proposed in the regulations.  We feel that nutrient-dense yogurt may exceed these limits, but may not exceed 20g of sugar per serving.  In addition, we feel that when it comes to whole grains, we urge DPH to specify the amount of whole grains a grain-based product must contain.  The Mass Public Health Association, for instance, recommends 50% whole grains by weight.

Steve Miller,  Executive Director of the Healthy Weight Initiation at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dept. of Nutrition issued some strong feedback to DPH regarding removing ambiguity from the standards:

Fiber is an essential part of any diet.  While several of the proposed regulations have fiber content implications, it isn’t spelled out.  A statement should be added that “grain-based food items must contain a minimum of 2g per serving of dietary fiber. All foods must include at least one gram of fiber per 10 grams of carbohydrates, except for dairy products.”

It is good that the proposed regulations will apply to “competitive foods and beverages sold or provided in public schools.”  But this still leaves too much room for interpretation and wiggling.  It would be better if the regulations explicitly stated that they apply to “celebrations, fund-raisers, and any other event that takes place at any time on school property or is under the supervision of school employees.”  Allowing unhealthy food to be used as a “treat” sends a very powerful – and wrong – message about its desirability.  And, too often, the growing number of our children with diabetes are forced to isolate themselves from the party or, even worse, succumb to temptation and sneak over to eat some of the junk.

We also know that there is concern regarding the removal of 10 oz. milks and eliminating flavored milk.  For example, Tracy Novick, parent and School Committee member in Worcester submitted testimony stating,

The sale of milk in 10 ounce bottles at our secondary schools in Worcester gives children who are still growing much-needed amounts of calcium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, and B12. Children ages 12 and over need to drink more than 8 ounces of fluid midday… A child who chooses to bring lunch from home should have the same choices available as the child who purchases the entire school lunch. Flavored milk should be as available to the child bringing a sandwich from home as it is to the child purchasing lunch from school.Likewise, the eventual ban on flavored milk makes little sense. Chocolate or other flavored milk, properly done (without high fructose corn syrup, for example) is not the enemy. As a creative (and not high-sugar) way of getting children to increase their consumption of milk, it fills gaps recently identified by the Dietary Guidelines. We should be encouraging milk consumption.

We know others in the state, however, that feel strongly that flavored milk should be phased out and is an unnecessary source of sugar.  Many say that if children and youth have only plain milk, they will drink it.

Here in Worcester our public schools have done an amazing job in delivering school meals that are healthy, nutritious, and source locally grown and produced foods as much as possible.  And because of the absence of “a la carte” foods and vending machines, we are fortunate to be one step ahead in providing a healthy school food environment.  We feel that these regulations will make permanent the successes the schools have already had, as well as raise the bar even higher on certain aspects of school nutrition.

If you wish to submit your own testimony (as a resident/ parent/ organization) please send it before April 8th to:  reg.testimony@state.ma.us.  DPH requests that electronic testimony be submitted as an attached Word document or as text within the body of an email and that “Nutrition Standards” be in the subject line.  All submissions should include the sender’s full name and address.  DPH will post all electronic testimony that complies with these instructions on its website.

 

School Lunch Guidelines Proposed

With the recent passage and signing of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthoriazation, or the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, we will start to see some proposals for school meals changes, which is one piece of the bill.  In the recently proposed guidelines:

  • School meals would have calorie limits.
  • Salt would be cut by half over 10 years.
  • Most trans fats would be banned.
  • More fruits and vegetables would be included in each meal.
  • Only low-fat or nonfat milk would be served.
  • Meals would see increases in the amount of whole grains and eventually will include only whole grains.
  • Breakfast would include both grain and protein, not one or the other.
  • Right now these guidelines are only proposed and could take some time before they are implemented.  The good news for Worcester – we’re ahead of the curve!  School Nutrition Director Donna Lombardi uses fresh produce (local when in season!), whole grains, low-fat True Moo milk (no high fructose corn syrup!), and is trans fat free. 

    Of course the bill contains more than just new regulations around school food – for a great synopsis see the summary put together by Food Research and Action Center.  Here in Worcester we’ll be going through the legislation to see what it means for us here in the community so that we can be aware of any changes or funding opportunities.

    For more information on the school lunch guidelines, see this article by Steven Reinberg.