Media Releases, Legislative News, Agricultural Updates
We are happy to bring you the next installment of our monthly Farm Bill segment where we explore each of RMFU’s top five priorities for the 2023 Food and Farm Bill. In this article, we will be discussing two priorities:
As always, you can learn more about our full Farm Bill platform and how your member-led policy directs our efforts at www.rmfu.org/federal-legislation.
How can investments in the social safety net bolster regional food production?
The nutrition title, namely the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially this has been referred to as Food Stamps, will likely account for over 80% of the total cost of the next Farm Bill. This has already been a contentious topic, particularly in the House of Representatives where there have been efforts to mandate that work requirements be put in place for certain individuals when determining eligibility for benefits. Regardless of how this fight turns out, we know significant funds will be allotted to this program.
For this reason, we are asking for an evaluation of ways to maximize these funds to not only assist people experiencing hunger but also to support the procurement of local food and the creation of expanded markets for family farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately many individuals receiving SNAP benefits struggle to access fresh fruits, veggies, meat, and dairy because of bottlenecks in the local food value chain or cost. RMFU is working to alleviate both of these challenges.
One opportunity we see is to create a National Food Pantry and Institution Assistance Grant Program that would provide technical assistance and funds to purchase local products direct from producers for use by food banks, pantries, schools, and other institutions. Local economies would benefit from this program, and it would provide additional market opportunities for farmers and ranchers. An essential component of this program would be the allowance for a portion of funds to be used to improve critical infrastructure and training, as well as increased pay for food service workers to enable more scratch cooking. Developing cooperative networks and local food navigators would also be necessary to create the flexibility to ensure all buyers and sellers receive a fair deal. We see this program complementing the National School Lunch Program and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP).
GusNIP, otherwise known as Double Up Food Bucks, is another program for which we are advocating reforms. This favored program allows SNAP recipients to double the value of their benefits when purchasing fresh fruits, veggies, meat, and dairy from participating vendors, such as independent retailers and farmers markets. Unfortunately, current regulatory challenges make it difficult for the very communities this program is designed for to access. We see a few ways to fix this by reforming match requirements for retailers and farmers markets that serve primarily historically underserved/underrepresented communities, including rural communities, and by creating a grant program to encourage broad adoption of the program.
The social safety net has other programs like the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) and the Senior Farmers Market Incentive program. We are including WIC in this conversation, although it is not funded through the Farm Bill, because it, like these other programs, plays an important role in guaranteeing that all Americans receive adequate nutrition. We see these programs as a vehicle for increasing local food production while making family farms and ranches more viable. For that to happen, we must also evaluate the unintended consequences of competitive bidding and other government contracting influence on the market and its contribution to concentration and lack of competition. Increasing geographic preference and incentivizing procurement from participants in a program like the Fair Food Program are also vital reforms to bolster regional food systems.
How else can we diversify the value chain within the food system?
Other titles in the Farm Bill, namely both Title 6 (Rural Development) and Title 10 (Horticulture), are important avenues for answering this question. The Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) continues to play a key role in developing viable businesses and partnerships across many underserved communities in our nation. These funds have enabled RMFU’s Cooperative Development Center to create important cooperative pathways for increasing resiliency in the regional food system and we hope to continue this important work alongside our partners. Although the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized RCDG at $40 million each year through 2023, appropriated funding levels for this program have been a fraction of that and stagnant for over ten years. We are asking for mandatory funding to meet increased demand and that awards are prioritized for eligible entities that primarily create and sustain cooperatives.
The Local Ag Market Program (LAMP), which includes the (Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG), Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Regional Food Systems Partnership Program (RFSP), is essential to launching new enterprises and building appropriate redundancy in the food value chain. We are calling for adequate funding and policy incentives for LAMP to increase access and market development for regional food supply. This should also include planning and technical assistance to incorporate state economic development programs, other Rural Development programs, and resources offered by the Small Business Administration.
Lastly, we will speak to the need for increased funding and reforms for Specialty Crop Block Grants to make them more flexible and continue to be a locally-led approach. This grant has traditionally been allocated as a state-block grant, meaning that each state receives a grant and determines how to allocate funds. It has been successful, but we see a need to evaluate this funding to create equitable allocations to each state to grow specialty crop production in areas historically void of much production. The allocations should include investments in infrastructure for season extension and research to increase productivity.
As the Farm Bill legislative process continues, we will be advocating for you being driven by your member-led policy on these issues as well as the other priorities that you have set. The strongest voice, however, is yours when you speak from your lived experience! Please consider joining us for our annual Legislative Fly-In to Washington D.C. this September 10-13. Also, we would love to hear how these programs are working for you and if you have ideas for improvement. If you are interested in joining us for Fly-In or if you just want to share some ideas, please email Dan Waldvogle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted July 6, 2023
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