As the year comes to an end, the House Committee on Agriculture released this week its summary of findings from a series of 16 hearings held between February 2015 and November 2016 to review the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In addition, USDA recently issued an analysis of point-of-sale grocery retail data collected for calendar year 2011 that compared expenditures made by households participating in SNAP with other households.
The committee hearings and summary, titled “Past, Present, & Future of SNAP,” covered a wide array of topics, including identifying ways the program can be improved. One hearing covered how nutrition education and targeted financial incentives could help SNAP recipients make healthier food choices. Others reviewed ways to reduce program inefficiencies and improve program delivery, examined work and job- training requirements and discussed access to food through non-traditional outlets, such as online purchases.
While the committee’s summary report does not include specific policy recommendations, Republican committee members likely will use it as a first step in identifying policy priorities as they look ahead to the 2018 farm bill. The SNAP program uses 79 percent of total farm bill spending and is projected to cost nearly $70 billion per year based on current trends.
SNAP enrollment nearly doubled from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2013. During these years of recession, 26.3 million people representing about nine percent of the U.S. population participated in fiscal year 2007. By fiscal year 2013, the number of participants had grown to 47.6 million people, representing about 15 percent of Americans. Even though unemployment has gone down since then, there were still 43.4 million SNAP participants as of July 2016.
USDA Examines Household SNAP Purchases
A report released last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined point-of-sale (POS) food-purchase data to determine the foods accounting for the largest expenditures in households with SNAP participants and learn how the expenditures compared to those made by households not participating in SNAP. The report, “Foods Typically Purchased by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Households,” concluded that there were no major differences in the spending patterns of these households. Both types of households spend about 40 cents of every dollar of food expenditures on basic items such as meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread.
Comparing expenditures by USDA Food Pattern categories, households with SNAP participants spent 9 percent on milk and dairy, compared to 10 percent of the spending in other households. The top two commodities – soft drinks and fluid milk products, including nondairy – were the same for both types of households, although soft drinks ranked first for SNAP recipients, while fluid milk products topped the list for other households.
USDA Sets New Standards for SNAP Retailers
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced final rule changes to increase access to healthy food choices for SNAP participants. The provisions in this rule require SNAP-authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options.
For the dairy industry, that means convenience-type stores will have to stock seven varieties of dairy products to be eligible to redeem SNAP benefits. Because some comments received by USDA mentioned the difficulty of procuring and selling seven varieties at an affordable cost, the final rule allows non-dairy plant-based alternatives to count as varieties within the dairy category.
For more information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at email@example.com.