Tell your Member of Congress - No Block Grants to FoodShare!
As the Farm Bill approaches and Congress considers its budget plan, there is an emerging threat that may fundamentally change the way the FoodShare program operates, making it less accountable and less responsive to local economic changes. If enacted, these changes to the program will put many of our friends and neighbors at risk of losing the vital food buying benefits they receive.
Please take a moment to tell your members of Congress that FoodShare is one of the most important tools to fight hunger and that it must be strengthened and not weakened.
Tell them that you do not support any budget proposal or cuts in the Farm Bill that would increase hunger and poverty in Wisconsin by fundamentally altering the way the FoodShare is administered.
SNAP is the nation’s and Wisconsin’s largest hunger fighting program. It serves 700,000 of our friends and neighbors by providing them an average monthly food buying benefit of $108 per person. This average monthly benefit ranks 51st out of the 53 United States and territories where the program operates. The average participant is only in the program for just under a year. Its payment accuracy rate (96%) is at an all-time high and its fraud rate (1.6%) is exceedingly low.
Food banks and locally administered federal nutrition programs like SNAP work in concert with each other to ensure that our friends and neighbors have the care, support, and nutrition they need to work, learn, and live healthy lives. In order for the emergency food system to do its job effectively, nutrition programs must also keep its promise to provide assistance to the people who are eligible and qualify.
As Congress works on setting our national budget and nutrition priorities, important programs like SNAP (FoodShare in Wisconsin) are being targeted again for cuts and other changes that would fundamentally alter the way the program is run and administered.
Over the last few years, families in Wisconsin that utilize FoodShare to help buy groceries have had to deal with a number of cuts and other program changes, including the reinstatement of the work requirement for single adults without children, the sunset of the benefit boost provided by the stimulus program, and the benefit cut as a result of the 2013 Farm Bill.
Last year, the House Budget Committee released its budget proposal for FFY17. Along with many other cuts, it also proposes deeper cuts to the FoodShare program, including a proposal to convert FoodShare into a block grant, something that we oppose.
While that budget proposal was not adopted, the continuing uncertainty with the federal budget leaves open a possibility for block grants through the budget reconcilliation process.
Additionally, with another Farm Bill process on the hoirzon, new opportunities for cuts and structural changes also loom.
What is a block grant and why is it bad?
Currently, the way the FoodShare program is structured, it can grow and retract to meet the need. That's why in the 2008 Great Recession, participation in the program grew so much - as demand increased, people were able to enroll in the program. This is the fundamental promise of our nation's first line of nutrition assistance - if you need the help and you are eligible, you will get help.
Converting the FoodShare program into a block grant breaks this promise as it would essentially cap the amount of available funding that each state has available to it without the strict oversight of how the money is spent.
What would proactive ways to improve FoodShare?
Our vision for a thriving Wisconsin is one where everybody has the food and nutrition they need to work, learn and live healthy lives.
Feeding Wisconsin urges legislators to adopt these principles to ensure that the program maintains its effectiveness and continues to have the flexibility to support families with the food they need to turn their lives around.
Prioritize policies for natural contraction versus artificial contraction
There are two ways to reduce program cost. The first is through natural reduction, where people earn enough money through work to become no longer eligible.
The second is artificial reduction, which occurs after a policy or structural change is enacted that cuts people off the program, leaving them with little or no income and no assistance.
Program savings must not be achieved through artificial program contraction but rather through program participants earning enough money to no longer qualify.
Ensure High Quality, Cost Effective, Efficient and Data-Driven Administration
The SNAP program must continue to prioritize program quality, efficiency, cost effectiveness and accessibility to all people in need of food assistance.
Policies should be pursued that coordinate eligibility and streamline program participation between SNAP and other means tested programs to reduce cost, increase efficiencies and maximize the impact of nutrition programs.
Any changes to nutrition assistance programs, including those intended to eliminate duplication or increase flexibility, must be data-driven and undertaken only after careful study and analysis of the potential impact on benefit levels, eligibility, and participation.
Work Training Must Work
In Wisconsin, only about 13% of single adults without children referred to employment and training programs were connected to jobs. This program needs to be improved.
Rather than mandating broad requirements that SNAP participants be engaged in work activities, employment and training investments should provide both meaningful training opportunities and seek to better understand and address the barriers that unemployed and underemployed people experience when attempting to engage with the labor market, such as lack of access to quality childcare or dependable transportation.
Fine-tuning work training programs should be developed in collaboration with stakeholder input from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, including the clients who utilize these programs.
Focus on Nutrition through Benefit Adequacy
SNAP must provide resources sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of participants and any savings from greater efficiencies should be reinvested in improving benefit adequacy.
Healthful foods like fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy are more expensive per calorie and can be more time intensive to prepare than less healthful, processed foods. While all families balance these choices, families with low-incomes have less flexibility in their grocery bill.
Highly targeted, tested healthy eating incentives like the Double Up Bucks program that increases the SNAP benefit through the purchase of healthful food is a promising model to increase benefit adequacy while focusing on nutrition.