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February 12, 2014 / Christian Clansky

What the Farm Bill means for the Greater Washington region

By Lindsay Smith
Consultant, Washington Regional Convergence Partnership (a project of WRAG)

Valued at nearly $1 trillion dollars and covering everything from crop insurance to SNAP benefits (food stamps), here are just a few ways that the Farm Bill could impact food security in our region.

First, one of the most contentious issues in the Farm Bill was funding for SNAP benefits. The final bill cut $8.5 billion from the program. These cuts are tied to a heating assistance program (LIHEAP). In our region, LIHEAP is only administered in the District. In 2011, an estimated 25,532 households – or, about one third DC’s SNAP recipients – also received LIHEAP. It is not yet clear if all of these households will be impacted, but any additional reduction is of great concern.

A recent New York Times story spoke to the increased demand that food banks are already seeing in the wake of November’s SNAP reductions. Those reductions affected hundreds of thousands of recipients throughout the District, Maryland, and Virginia. This is a gap that anti-hunger leaders in the region don’t know how they can bridge and will be an on-going concern for our communities.

Here are some other provisions that could impact our region’s food system:

  • Funding was increased for the highly competitive Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Community Food Projects (CFP). In the past, a few of these programs’ grants have been secured by several nonprofits in our region doing innovative work on urban farming, increasing access to fresh, healthy local food for low income community members, and more. Anti-hunger efforts will also be newly eligible for the CFP program.
  • A new program, called the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program will help SNAP recipients purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. Those interested in integrated impacts across the food system will want to keep track of this program as it goes through the rulemaking process at USDA. Application to the program will require match funding, and it is worth pointing out that two of our jurisdictions (Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County) have recently included funding for farmers market incentive programs in their budgets. Philanthropy is also a key supporter of these programs.
  • Mandatory spending for outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and veterans was reduced. There are other provisions in the bill that they may benefit from, this reduction comes at a time when we must be thinking about not just building the next generation of farmers, but about diversity and equal opportunity in our nation’s and region’s workforce.

In sum, although there are potentially some bright spots in the bill for our region, there are some definite “cons” as well.

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