Nutrition Education in the 2018 Farm Bill

by Julia McCarthy

 

The House Committee on Agriculture recently failed to pass its version of the farm bill, legislation that sets farm and food policy every five years. Despite obesity rates looming at all-time highs, H.R. 2 Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 proposed to weaken the very programs we know improve diets—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), SNAP Education (SNAP-Ed), and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Assistance Program (EFNEP).[1] The changes H.R. 2 proposed would have disrupted local nutrition education services, affecting already vulnerable individuals. Understanding how these changes would have harmed public health and public health infrastructure could prevent the Senate from including these misguided provisions in its version of the farm bill.

Protecting SNAP is and should be advocates’ priority. Preserving programs that enhance food assistance and promote healthy eating is also crucial to our nation’s health. Program participants, media, and advocates have articulately denounced cuts to SNAP.[2] Less has been written about the concerning changes being proposed to our nation’s largest nutrition education program. Below, I explain what the term “nutrition education” means, how the farm bill affects nutrition education, and why the proposed changes are problematic. I also suggest several ways to provide stronger, more effective support for nutrition education.

What is Nutrition Education?

Nutrition promotion; obesity prevention; consumer education; food literacy; food policy, systems, and environmental change—these are just a few of the many names people use to describe nutrition education. Nutrition education has so many names because, as the widely-accepted definition for the term explains, it involves “any combination of educational strategies accompanied by environmental supports” that provide people with the motivation, skills, and knowledge to eat well.[3] Cooking demonstrations, gardening lessons, school wellness policy support, healthy retail projects, and recipe distribution are all examples of nutrition education for which the farm bill provides funding.[4]

In fact, there are at least 26 initiatives that can support nutrition education included in the farm bill. For some initiatives, nutrition education is both the main focus and required. SNAP-Ed, which funds direct education for low-income individuals as well as policy, systems, and environment changes in schools, stores, and other community locations, is an example.[5]

Other initiatives have a main focus distinct from nutrition education, such as providing food, but still require such education. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides low-income seniors food and resources such as recipes, is an example of this second type of initiative.[6]

Others still have a broader main focus—such as increasing fruit and vegetable sales—and allow, but do not require nutrition education. The Specialty Crop Block Grant, which states have used to support farm to school programs, is an example of this third kind of initiative.[7] See Table 1 below for a full list of nutrition education initiatives in the farm bill.

Table 1: Nutrition Education in the Farm Bill[8]

McCarthy.table

How the 2018 House Bill Would Have Affected Nutrition Education

The House Bill would have altered the structure of many of these initiatives, but most importantly, it would have combined the two largest nutrition education programs, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP. To combine the programs, H.R. 2 reallocated responsibility for SNAP-Ed from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the agency currently responsible for EFNEP. The bill repealed EFNEP, but maintained funding for the combined program at a level similar to current funding and added $65 million in annual discretionary funding.

At the state level, H.R. 2 shifted primary administrative responsibilities for SNAP-Ed away from state agencies to land grant universities (LGUs). The bill also altered states’ funding formula, basing future funding only on a jurisdiction’s current SNAP population, and not in any part on historical funding levels. Ultimately, merging SNAP-Ed and EFNEP as proposed would have created potential problems while failing to measurably improve either program:

  • Taking SNAP out of SNAP-Ed—Naming NIFA, rather than FNS as the administering agency for SNAP-Ed, would decouple the program from SNAP and other FNS low-income nutrition education programs. At the federal level and through regional offices, FNS coordinates numerous nutrition education initiatives such as SNAP-Ed, Team Nutrition, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Moving SNAP-Ed to NIFA, a research focused sub-agency, would create inefficiencies, not improve coordination.
  • Shifting Administrative Responsibilities to Land Grand UniversitiesGiving LGUs primary administrative responsibility for SNAP-Ed is also problematic. LGUs are one of several important agencies that administer SNAP-Ed; health departments and community-based nonprofits also administer the program. If LGUs were solely responsible for administering SNAP-Ed funds, they could choose not to share funds with other agencies, impacting the diversity and reach of organizations that implement the program.

Even if LGUs were to share funding, sub-contracting would be difficult; LGUs typically do not have contract managers the way state social services and health departments do. Many LGUs would need to create new administrative systems to manage SNAP-Ed, though this infrastructure already exists in other state agencies. And, realistically, LGUs would have trouble spending less than 10% of grant funds on administration, as the bill required.

  • Altering SNAP-Ed’s Funding Formula—R. 2 did maintain mandatory funding for the proposed, combined program, but too abruptly changed how states provide SNAP-Ed. The proposed changes to the funding formula could leave many struggling to provide public health services. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act established a stepped-down formula that considers a state’s funding history and incrementally introduces pro rata distribution based on its current SNAP population.[9] A sudden shift that considers only current SNAP participation would hurt states with a strong record of matching federal funds, as well as less-populated states. Changes to SNAP-Ed funding, when paired with recent cuts to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grants for diet-related disease control, would leave some states reeling with very little funding for nutrition education and obesity prevention.

Nutrition Education Recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill

Nutrition education helps to prevent obesity and encourages individuals to eat healthy foods American farmers grow.[10] The 2018 Farm Bill should ensure not only that these programs receive adequate funding, but that they are structured to succeed. The Senate bill should:

  • Preserve SNAP-Ed and EFNEP’s Strengths—Combining SNAP-Ed and EFNEP, as the House Bill proposed, may be politically inevitable. Whatever form farm bill nutrition education takes should maintain the funding and flexibility of SNAP-Ed and the efficacy and peer-education emphasis of EFNEP.

With SNAP-Ed, state agencies receive more than $414 million a year to contract with land grant universities, local health departments, and community-based organizations.[11] These groups empower people to eat well through social marketing, direct education, and policy, systems, and environment changes consistent with current public health practices.

EFNEP, though funded at only $67 million a year, has a great return on investment; for every $1 spent, EFNEP saves $10 in future health care costs.[12] EFNEP also has the advantage of hiring peer educators.[13] The program not only provides low-income community members with jobs, but its instructors understand the challenges and strengths of the communities in which they work.

  • Maintain FNS as the SNAP-Ed Administrator—FNS’s structure ensures that people can access and afford nutrition assistance programs, driving demand for nutritious foods through nutrition education. FNS should consult with NIFA on program administration and maintain control of SNAP-Ed.
  • Gradually Adjust SNAP-Ed Funding Based on States’ SNAP Population—Currently, USDA allocates 50% of a state’s funding based on its SNAP population, and 50% based on historical match.[14] Instead of immediately altering states’ funding, USDA should adjust funding by 10% each year until 100% of funding is based on SNAP populations. This will allow states to better plan for the program going forward.

 

[1] 7 U.S.C. §§ 2011 et seq.; §§ 2036a et seq.; §§ 3175 et seq.

[2] See e.g. Ed Bolen et al., House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill Would Increase Food Insecurity and Hardship, Center on Budget & Pol’y Priorities (April 25, 2018), https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/house-agriculture-committees-farm-bill-would-increase-food-insecurity-and.

[3] Isobel Contento, Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory and Practice (3rd ed., Jones & Bartlett 2015).

[4] Julia McCarthy, Claire Uno, Pam Koch, & Isobel Contento, Empowered Eaters: A Road Map for Stronger New York State Nutrition Education Policies and Programs, 31 (Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Educ. & Pol’y, Program in Nutrition at Tchr. College, Columbia U. 2018), http://www.tc.columbia.edu/media/media-library-2014/centers/tisch-center/Empowered-Eaters-STATE-FINAL.pdf.

[5] 7 U.S.C. §§ 2036a et seq.

[6] 7 U.S.C. §§ 612c et seq.

[7] 7 C.F.R. §§ 1291 et seq.

[8] McCarthy, supra note 4.

[9] Pub. L. 111-296 § 241(d) codified in 7 U.S.C. § 2036a(d)(2).

[10] See e.g. M. Vine et al. Expanding the Role of Primary Care in the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity: A Review of Clinic and Community-Based Recommendations and Interventions, J. Obesity (2013);

  1. Prelip et al., Evaluation of a School-Based Multicomponent Nutrition Education Program to Improve Young Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Consumption, 44(4) J. Nutrition Educ. & Behav. 310-318 (2012).

[11] U.S. Dep’t Agric., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) Budget Allocation for Fiscal Year 1992 to 2017 (2017), available at https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/snap/Guidance/SNAP-EdBudgetAllocationFY1992-2017.pdf.

[12] U.S. Dep’t Agric., Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) FY 2018 Request for Applications, (Aug. 8, 2018), available at https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resources/FY18-EFNEP-Modification-882017.pdf; Jamie Dollahite et al., An Economic Evaluation of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, 40 J. Nutrition Educ. & Behav. 134-143 (2008).

[13] 7 U.S.C. § 3175(c).

[14] 7 U.S.C. § 2036a(d)(2).

 

Julia McCarthy is a Senior Nutrition Policy Associate at CSPI, focusing on healthy retail policies. Prior to joining CSPI, she was a policy analyst at the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, and Policy. McCarthy has worked as a legal fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group. She attended Georgetown University and has a law degree from New York University where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern scholar.

Farm Bill Law Enterprise Spends Day Lobbying for a Better Farm Bill on Capitol Hill

Today, Farm Bill Law Enterprise members–including Allison Korn, the Assistant Dean for Experiential Education at UCLA Law and the Director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic, Beth Kent, a UCLA Law student, and Emilie Aguirre, a former academic fellow at the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy and a doctoral student at Harvard Business School–spent the day on Capitol Hill, advocating for a better farm bill and opposing the House farm bill.  See below for pictures of Dean Korn and Beth Kent, and the whole group together.  We look forward to hearing from the participants when they return!

The Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE) is a novel partnership between eight law school programs that came together under the leadership of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic to substantively engage with the farm bill and identify viable steps toward reform.  In addition to Harvard, FBLE members include: UCLA School of Law Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy; Duke Law School Environmental Law & Policy Clinic; Harvard Law School Environmental Policy Initiative and Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic; Harvard Law School Health Law and Policy Clinic; Pace University Elizabeth Haub School of Law Food Law Initiative; Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems; and Yale Law School Environmental Protection Clinic.

In addition to members programs, FBLE recruited law students from across the country to work on the project. In 2016, the newly-formed FBLE dove into collaborative research. Together, faculty and students analyzed each of the farm bill’s components and developed shared goals for a farm bill that meets the long-term needs of our society. These goals include a reliable and nutritious food supply, an honest living for farmers, a healthy environment, and a strong safety net against hunger.

At the end of March 2018, FBLE released three reports making recommendations for how the next farm bill can begin to meet those goals by maintaining key programs that work, adding new programs, and redistributing funding in ways that are better for health, the environment and justice.

Each report focuses on a specific theme: Diversified Agricultural Economies; Food Access, Nutrition and Public Health; and Productivity and Risk Management.

The reports can be found at  www.FarmBillLaw.org.

 

Government subsidized loan programs for chicken facilities and Becerra v. The Coca-Cola Co.

Late last week I read two interesting short pieces on food law, one an email to a listserve by Susan Schneider, a Professor of Law and the Director of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law on using government subsidized loans to build chicken facilities for contract production, and one a Public Citizen blog post by Stephen Gardner, former litigation director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, criticizing the Northern District of California District Court’s recent opinion in Becerra v. Coca-Cola. 

Professor Schneider wrote the following:

For a long time, I have questioned the use of government subsidized loan programs through USDA and SBA to fund the huge loans needed to build chicken facilities for contract production.  As noted in Food, Farming, & Sustainability, I have argued that those loans supported the one-sided contracts that are used throughout the industry. Lenders would rarely fund operations based on these short term and risk laden contracts without a government guarantee.  In this regard the subsidized lending programs, designed to help small business, have actually been used to support the integrated industry. 

The SBA Office of Inspector General has just published a report that lends support to this analysis. It provides a good description of the contractual relationship, the risks associated with the contract terms, and the role of  SBA in supporting this system of production. And, it is a fascinating look at the billions of dollars of SBA loans going to poultry growers. It finds that the control exercised by the integrator is so extensive that the integrator and the grower are “affiliated enterprises,” and that as such, about $1.8 billion in loans should have been ineligible.  “SBA guaranteed loans to affiliative enterprises are inconsistent with its stated mission to assist small business concerns.”  

For anyone writing or teaching about the system that produces our inexpensive and abundant  supply of poultry, I highly recommend this report. 

Evaluation of SBA 7(A) Loans Made to Poultry Farmers, SBA OIG, Rep. No. 18-13 (Mar. 6, 2018). 

Appreciation to Politico, Morning Ag Report for bringing this report to my attention.

 

The link to Mr. Gardner’s piece is here: http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2018/03/illustration-of-the-problem-of-judges-substituting-their-own-opinions-of-facts.html

 

Everything You Need To Know About The Upcoming Farm Bill Debate

 

With media attention focused on so many high-profile issues occupying Congress, the renewal of the farm bill has flown under the radar. The farm bill, which is a massive piece of legislation that addresses many aspects of the US food system—including food production, conservation, nutrition policy, and food access—must be passed every five to seven years. The latest farm bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed in February 2014, and many provisions of this bill expire in 2018. The US House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been holding hearings since early 2017 to gather information about important issues from members of the agricultural and nutrition communities. After the hearings and a budget determination by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), each agriculture committee will report full drafts of the bill to the floor. The bills when passed by each house will then be reconciled by a joint committee, the reconciled bill will be returned to both houses for a vote, and, if all goes well, be sent to the president to sign. The complexity of this process is magnified by the size and reach of the farm bill.

The 2014 farm bill has 12 titles, covering price and income support for farmers, crop insurance, nutrition programs (including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]), specialty and organic crop programs, conservation, and trade, among other things. The CBO projected that the 2014 farm bill would cost approximately $95 billion a year, with about $75 billion of that going to nutrition programs, and most of that to SNAP funding. It is no surprise, therefore, that these nutrition programs are always a controversial part of farm bill reauthorization. The mechanisms embedded in the farm bill to assist farmers with price supports for certain commodities also implicate nutrition policy and are a contentious subject. This post highlights these and several other issues that will dominate discussion as the next farm bill reauthorization process moves forward.

Nutrition—Title 4

Questions of whether nutrition programs should remain part of the farm bill, and whether food assistance programs should be reformed, will be prominent in 2018 farm bill debates. Nutrition contains three subtitles—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Commodity Distribution Program, and Miscellaneous Programs. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) began supplying people with food stamps in 1939, requiring users to buy surplus food with the stamps. The program continued in the 1960s, but the surplus requirement was eliminated. In 1973, the food stamps program was incorporated into the farm bill, and the name was changed to SNAP in 2008 to fight the stigma of food stamps. The Commodity Distribution Program gives the USDA the authority to purchase food for school lunches and for direct distribution to those in need, including to food pantries, food banks, and programs that supply food directly to households. The Miscellaneous subtitle includes initiatives such as a farmers’ market program for seniors and a farm-to-school pilot program.

The incorporation of the nutrition title into the farm bill increased support for the bill from urban legislators, adding to its traditional support from rural districts, but the marriage of the subjects has been strained. In 2013, the House of Representatives tried to remove the nutrition title from the 2014 farm bill, but that version of the bill did not pass. Critics of the combination, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, argue that the food stamp program is in need of reform and that as a step toward that reform the nutrition title should be removed from the farm bill. The Trump administration’s USDA, however, has not issued a strong call to remove the nutrition title from the farm bill, instead focusing on reforming the SNAP program in its articulated priorities for the bill.

In the USDA’s 2018 Farm Bill and Legislative Principles document, issued at the end of January 2018, it calls for SNAP benefits to be connected to work requirements. The USDA will continue to “support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance.” This is consistent with the administration’s broader efforts to connect public benefits to work requirements, as in the Medicaid program. There are already requirements in place for able-bodied adults without dependents, who can receive SNAP benefits for no more than three months in three years if they do not meet work requirements, although not all states take away benefits for noncompliance. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has expressed, in public meetings around the country, that the administration would like to move more people off SNAP, partly by tightening the work requirements for these able-bodied adults.

Commodities—Title 1

The price and income supports that the farm bill gives to certain commodity producers have historically been vigorously argued and that contentiousness has already begun this time around. These price supports were the reason the first farm bill was established during the Great Depression—the government purchased excess commodities and provided payments to farmers not to overproduce, thereby stabilizing the market—and they persisted for decades. In the 1990s, Congress “tried to wean farmers from subsidies and let the market dictate prices” by eliminating direct payments to farmers. After prices dropped, however, Congress reintroduced direct payments. In the 2014 farm bill, Congress expanded the crop insurance program (Title 11) and introduced two programs in lieu of direct payments—Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage.

The traditional design of price and income supports has been criticized by both conservative and progressivecommentators for years because these supports have been awarded to farms every year, even when times were good; have been based on production, leading the biggest farms to receive the most subsidies; and are susceptible to fraud. There is also evidence that the expansion of crop insurance in 2014 increased costs for the government, the opposite of the intended effect. Moreover, the supports are only available for certain “major” commodities, including corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, and oats, not fruits and vegetables, which fall under a different title—Title 10—Specialty Crops and Horticulture. For decades, critics of the programs have argued that these governmental subsidies have artificially lowered the price of crops that are used to make processed food, thereby increasing the availability of these foods and negatively affecting the health of Americans. This connection was at issue during the 2014 farm bill debate and will most likely be an issue during the debate over the 2018 bill.

Specialty Crops And Horticulture—Title 10

Specialty crops, which are defined as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture),” have only been included in the farm bill since 2008. Support for these crops is only a small portion of the farm bill, and the support is structured differently than that for commodity crops. As described by the Congressional Research Service, the support is indirect and benefits producers as a whole, not individually—“These types of programs include marketing and promotion programs, crop insurance and disaster assistance, plant pest and disease protections, trade assistance, and research and extension services, among other types of indirect support.” In addition to support for specialty crops, the Horticulture title provides funds for farmers’ markets and the promotion of local foods and to benefit producers of certified organic foods.

Issues involving specialty crops include whether funding should be increased for price and income supports for these crops and whether crop insurance (Title 11) should be expanded to include more producers of fruits and vegetables.

Conservation—Title 2

The farm bill contains both mandatory and voluntary conservation programs. For example, before receiving crop insurance premium support, producers must show that they have complied with certain conservation programs regarding highly erodible lands and wetlands. The 2014 Conservation Title contains approximately 10 conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to replace crops on highly erodible lands and wetlands with conservation plantings, and the Equipment Quality Incentives Program, which provides assistance to farmers to implement practices that will conserve environmentally sensitive land.

Critics of the farm bill’s conservation programs argue that the farm bill as a whole has encouraged agriculture that is environmentally devastating and that price and income supports and crop insurance policies need to be reworked to encourage sustainable agriculture, in addition to a reworking of the conservation title. Moreover, the conservation title needs to include resources to measure how well its programs work.

In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that the Guidelines include sustainability as part of its dietary advice. Ultimately, the recommendation was not followed, but this issue will come up again when the 2020 Dietary Guidelines are discussed. A renewed emphasis on conservation in the 2018 farm bill may resonate with this recognition of the connection between dietary health and environmental sustainability.

In short, the farm bill has an immense effect on the US food system, including in its mechanisms for encouraging which crops are produced and in what way, and in the bill’s control over our nation’s main food assistance program, SNAP. Its complexity and diffuse nature obscure the interconnectedness of the bill, and the political nature of so many of its provisions makes it all the more difficult to assess the legislation as a whole.

by Diana R. H. Winters

Crossposted from Health Affairs blog

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