The Bipartisan Policy Center on Monday released its report on the Supplemental Nutrition and Access Program, drawing a mixed response from the grocery industry, with retailers ripping the plan’s additional costs and fresh food companies commending the report for prioritizing nutrition and healthy eating.
The BPC launched a 13-member task force in 2017 to explore strategies for promoting nutrition through public programs and policies related to food and health, focusing on opportunities to improve SNAP, which currently provides food assistance to more than 40 million Americans each month at an annual cost of approximately $70 billion.
The task force’s recommendations aim to prioritize nutrition in SNAP, strengthen SNAP-Ed, align SNAP and Medicaid, and coordinate federal and state agencies and programs.
Jennifer Hatcher, FMI chief public policy officer and SVP of government relations, objected to the BPC’s recommendations due to the imposition of additional fees on food retailers, as well as the collection and reporting of store-level sales data on all products purchased with SNAP funds in an effort to “provide the appropriate level of detail to answer key public health and programmatic questions while avoiding the privacy concerns of collecting purchase data on individual recipients,” according to the report.
“After nearly three years and dozens of public hearings, it is unfortunate that the Bipartisan Policy Center lacks credibility as an integral part of the policy process in its release today of proposals related to SNAP that have been previously considered and rejected,” Hatcher said in a statement. “Among the BPC’s recommendations are the imposition on food retailers of additional fees without any apparent added benefits to program participants, as well as the costly collection and reporting of store-level sales data that would constitute an anti-competitive food retail environment.”
The BCP report arrived shortly before a markup of a bipartisan farm bill slated for March 20, sparking disagreement among lawmakers over a Republican plan to increase SNAP work requirements to recipients as old as 65, an increase from the current age requirement of 49. Savings resulting from the change would help fund SNAP education and worker training under the GOP plan, according to a Politico report.
“FMI and its members are focused on working with lawmakers and current administration officials to identify real and thoughtful reforms that will improve the efficiencies and outcomes of the program, rather than increase costs for all customers,” said Hatcher. “Sadly, the BPC’s eleventh-hour proposals are a distraction to a serious effort to develop a Farm Bill that can move through Congress and strengthen SNAP.”
United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel has commended the BCP report for its prioritization of healthy eating and nutrition, including recommendations to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the list of items that can be purchased with SNAP benefits and strengthening incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables.
“The BPC Task Force is to be commended for its clear linkage that healthy eating among SNAP recipients will have a direct positive impact on health outcome and reduce national healthcare costs,” Stenzel said in a statement. “The report includes a number of policy recommendations to boost healthy eating among SNAP recipients, including important incentives to consume more fruits and vegetables. Only one in 10 Americans eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, with consumption even lower for those living in poverty.”
The BCP report aims to work across congressional agriculture and health committees to better align SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare and other federal programs to improve the health of participants.
“United Fresh Produce Association has long worked to ensure that the nation’s feeding programs are nutrition-focused and that its beneficiaries have access to fruits and vegetables through policies like the Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program in SNAP, the cash value voucher (CVV) for fruits and vegetables in WIC, and programs including the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable (FFVP) and minimum serving requirements in child nutrition programs,” said Stenzel. “We stand ready to work with policymakers to ensure that the SNAP program begins to reflect these same health priorities to better serve its recipients’ health outcomes and reduce ever-increasing national healthcare costs.”