Farm Bill secures food assistance measures sought by retailers
- The $867 billion Farm Bill that passed the House yesterday preserves funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) sought by retailers after a prolonged back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats, according to the Washington Post. SNAP accounts for around 80% of Farm Bill spending, or $70 billion annually.
- In addition to preserving funding, the approved bill includes various other measures supported by industry groups. This includes eliminating EBT processing fees, authorizing online SNAP sales, approving so-called "workforce partnerships" to help recipients meet their weekly work requirements and boosting guidance for promotional waivers available to retailers under the program.
- Also notable for the food industry, the Farm Bill allows legalizes industrial hemp production and boosts funding for organic farming research to $50 million annually — double the amount the industry currently receives.
Passage of this latest farm bill was delayed as House GOP members pushed for additional work requirements for older SNAP recipients and those with children over the age of 6. According to the Congressional Budget Office, these requirements would have cut roughly 1.5 million individuals from the program. The Senate, however, didn't have the 60 votes they needed for passage and required support from Democrats, leading to what many outlets are calling a bipartisan bill.
The final deal doesn't strengthen work requirements or change eligibility rules, but it does include a slight increase in funding for SNAP job-training programs. Most importantly for retailers and other food industry groups, the bill approves workforce partnerships that allow retailers and nonprofits to aid recipients in achieving their 20 hours per week of "training, work or experience."
Retail groups like the Food Marketing Institute and the National Grocers Association applauded the dissolution of EBT processing fees, as well. Those fees, which resemble the swipe fees companies pay for credit card processing, was a major point of contention for the industry after it was authorized under the previous farm bill.
The bill also authorizes online sales of SNAP — a crucial step that modernizes the assistance program, according to FMI, and makes orders available for delivery and store pickup. This follows a pilot program that kicked off earlier this year and included eight retailers across eight states. A few months before that, Walmart launched an online EBT payment program in five markets that allowed shoppers to order food online and pick up orders in store.
Finally, the bill will help retailers sharpen promotions aimed at SNAP recipients. The legislation permanently authorizes Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants, which provide funding for programs like "Double Up Food Bucks" that have boosted fresh food sales for retailers like Schnucks. It also directs the Secretary of Agriculture to provide guidance on how retailers can apply for and effectively deploy promotional waivers that boost the marketing of SNAP-certified products.
All told, more than 42 million Americans receive SNAP benefits each year.
"FMI is excited to move to the next phase of work to implement the new law and helping our members continue to serve SNAP families in their communities," said Hannah Walker, senior director, technology and nutrition policy at FMI, in a statement.
NGA, meanwhile, heralded the bill's passage but expressed disappointment that a provision to protect SNAP sales data, which the group pushed, was not included. A U.S. Court of Appeals earlier this year ruled in response to a lawsuit brought by the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that SNAP data can be released without causing unfair competition.
"We will work closely with Congress and industry stakeholders to identify viable solutions to ensure that private information that could be used to give competitors an unfair advantage, particularly over many small and medium size grocers, is protected from public disclosure,” the NGA said in a statement.
Follow Jeff Wells on Twitter