Farm Bill 2024: Big Nutrition Title Shakes Up SNAP

When most people hear the words “Farm Bill,” they generally wouldn’t think that the largest and most expensive title in the omnibus piece of legislation governing an array of agricultural and food programs is “Nutrition.” Yet, this title is crucial, encompassing programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which directly impacts millions of Americans.

The Farm Bill, an omnibus bill enacted approximately every five years, governs areas such as Federal Crop Insurance, Rural Development, farm subsidies, and nutrition programs. The most recent iteration, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, expired in 2023 but was extended until the end of the Fiscal Year 2024. Now, with the extension’s expiration on the horizon, three proposals have emerged—one from the House of Representatives and two from the U.S. Senate.

The House of Representatives proposal, titled the “Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024,” was released by House Committee on Agriculture Chair G.T. Thompson (R-PA) on May 17, 2024. This proposal is the only one with full bill text and has already passed the committee stage on a bipartisan basis. The bill aims to bring significant changes to USDA nutrition assistance programs, including increased funding for Community Food Projects, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, and the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program.

One notable aspect of the House bill is its focus on expanding access to SNAP. It proposes the codification of the Elderly Simplified Application Project and authorizes certain states to directly buy commodities for The Emergency Food Assistance Program. The bill also permits the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into self-determination contracts with Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations to operationalize SNAP, thereby giving these communities more control over their food assistance programs. Additionally, the bill seeks to create SNAP participation access for previously excluded individuals, such as past drug offenders, and encourages a pathway for Puerto Rico residents to participate in SNAP.

The Senate Majority proposal, titled the “Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act,” was released by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) on May 1, 2024, but lacks full bill text. While it shares some similarities with the House proposal, such as abolishing the prohibition against individuals with past drug offenses from receiving SNAP and establishing paths for Puerto Rico residents to participate in SNAP, it also introduces unique provisions. For instance, it exempts college students under the age of 24 who have aged out of foster care from being restricted from participating in SNAP and excludes the basic allowance for military housing from counting in SNAP income.

The Senate Minority proposal, released by Senator John Boozman (R-AR) on June 11, 2024, also lacks full bill text but includes a one-page summary of priorities for the Nutrition title. This proposal emphasizes curbing abuse and fraud in SNAP administration, requiring all payment errors to be reported, and mandating states to return and recoup SNAP overpayments due to household fraud. It also includes provisions to allow all forms of fruits and vegetables to be eligible under the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program and establishes the Dairy Nutrition Incentive Program.

A key area of debate within each Farm Bill proposal is the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). The TFP represents the cost of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four and is the basis for determining SNAP benefits. The 2018 Farm Bill included a provision directing the USDA to reevaluate the TFP by 2022 and every subsequent five years. This reevaluation could lead to significant changes in how SNAP benefits are calculated, potentially increasing the amount of assistance provided to eligible households.

As these proposals make their way through the legislative process, the focus on nutrition underscores the importance of food assistance programs in the broader context of agricultural policy. The debates and decisions made in the coming months will have far-reaching implications for millions of Americans who rely on these programs for their daily sustenance.

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