(photo via Wikimedia)
By Anthony Giancatarino, Program Manager; Dennis Chin; Communications Coordinator; Ashley Hollingshead; Project Associate
American consumers and farmers have been hungering for a new Farm Bill. After much fanfare and three years of partisan fighting, the House and Senate finally passed a comprehensive, bipartisan five-year Farm Bill, which President Obama signed into law last Friday.
Contrary to its name, the Farm Bill does more than provide grants and loans to farmers for food production. The Bill makes sure that hungry families, the elderly and people with disabilities eat; the Bill governs how food is packaged and gets to our dinner tables; and the Bill also helps to conserve our nation’s farmlands.
What has been the focus?
Analysts and advocates on all sides have focused on two major provisions in the Bill: the end of direct payments to farmers and food stamp cuts.
The Bill eliminates billions of dollars of direct payments to farmers, regardless of their yields. In its place, the Bill expands crop insurance and other benefits for agribusiness. The other major focal point of the Bill is the $8.7 billion cut from the Supplemental Nutrition & Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. The $8.7 billion cut is a drastic reduction from the original $40 billion cut that the House originally proposed. Nevertheless, the cut will affect 1.7 million people who will have their benefits reduced by approximately $90 month through the altering of the “Heat and Eat” program. Research shows that any cuts to SNAP will disproportionately impact children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Of those that currently rely on SNAP, White Americans are the largest group who get help to buy food. And while the total numbers are smaller, Blacks and Latinos are more likely to have low-paying jobs that leave them in need of nutrition support – One in four Black Americans and one in six Latinos rely on SNAP, compared to one in 12 Whites.
What else should we know?
The Farm Bill is nearly 1000 pages long, so we at CSI picked out three things you may have missed that could have a big impact on communities, particularly communities of color:
1) It promotes better access to Healthy Foods:
Nearly 30 million Americans live in “food deserts” – a community without grocery stores or other shops that sell fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy whole foods. This is a problem for Americans of all races, but a huge problem for communities of color. Latino, Native American and Black communities are two to four times more likely than Whites to lack access to healthy foods. The Farm Bill has several provisions that address this issue:
The Farm Bill supports a $125 million national Healthy Food Financing Initiative that would provide start-up grants and affordable loan financing for food retailers, farmers’ markets, cooperatives and others who face obstacles to delivering and selling healthy foods.
The Farm Bill also provides new money for community food security grants. These project grants fund local and regional food hubs that support the distribution of healthy foods in communities. One recent recipient of a grant is Common Market in Philadelphia, which is allowing them to expand its work in low-income communities and communities of color.
The Bill creates a new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program that encourages fruit and vegetable consumption by supporting organizations that coordinate farmers markets and grocery store programs for SNAP recipients.The program will allow low-income families to double their food stamp benefits at farmers markets. One such program, Double Up Food Bucks in Michigan, run by the Fair Food Network, allows SNAP recipients to expand their purchasing power for local fruits and vegetables, while supporting local economic development and local farmers.
Several provisions in the Farm Bill promote the purchase of fresh and local produce among SNAP recipients by allowing them to use their benefits to participate in community supported agriculture (CSAs). The predominantly people-of-color neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York is one example of how a neighborhood CSA can support local farmers. The Crown Heights CSA partners with SangLee Farms, a multi-racial farm operation on Long Island, to ensure that families, including those who rely on SNAP, can participate in the local food economy.
The Farm Bill also introduces a scaled back farm-to-school pilot program in five states, allowing elementary schools to serve canned, fresh, frozen, or dried fruits and vegetables as snacks.
2) It promotes the generation of renewable energy:
The Farm Bill provides $879 million in new money for renewable energy programs, including $435 million and permanent funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). This is a huge win for generating renewable energy on farms such as wind and solar technologies. REAP is critical to the work of organizations like the Black Family Land Trust which is working with Black landowners to use renewable energy as a way to generate power and keep their land. REAP also helps farmers like Santa Cruz farms be more sustainable through passive solar greenhouse technology.
3) It offers limited support for farmers of color:
The Farm Bill provides $10 million per year in 2501 grants, which support socially disadvantaged farmers through loans and technical assistance. Last January’s Farm Bill extension zeroed out the funding for the 2501 grants program, but even with its resurrection, the funding is much lower than expected ($25 million per year). 2501 funds have been used to support organizations like the Black Family Land Trust and Land Loss Prevention by providing legal and technical support to Black farmers. These farmers have lost 25% of their land over a 25-year period, compared to a 2.3% loss among all farmers. 2501 grants also have helped support food security among Native American communities in Arizona and support Asian vegetable farmers in Ohio.
Stay tuned for more on the implications of the Farm Bill. For more on CSI’s Food Systems work, click here.