Presenting…Farm Bill 2014!

Author: Kate Fitzgerald

While many of you may have been indulging in post-Super Bowl analysis or poring over winter Olympic viewing schedules, hard core Farm Bill aficionados have had their sites focused on Congress, where the truly historic occurred last night. The Senate passed the Agriculture Act of 2014 and it’s off to the White House to be signed by the President. The nearly 1,000 page bill sets much of the nation’s farm and food policy for the next several years at a cost of almost one trillion dollars.

For those who have followed this blog for the past three years, the first message is that the bill includes a new fruit and vegetable incentive program for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). The Farm Bill authorizes USDA to establish the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant program and provides it $100 million over the next five years. There was broad bipartisan support for this provision based in large part on the success of Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program (DUFB), which has been successful at helping low-income families eat more fruits and vegetables while also boosting farmer income.

The SNAP program absorbs the lion’s share of Farm Bill spending (almost 80%), and it did not emerge from the negotiations unscathed. Projected SNAP spending over the next ten years will be about $8 billion less than anticipated by changing the requirements states must meet when coupling SNAP with the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Significantly less than the $39 billion cut passed by the House of Representatives in September, this reduction will affect participants in fewer than 20 states and will protect the integrity of the basic SNAP program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides thoughtful commentary on the Nutrition Title.

SNAP spending reductions aside, local food advocates have much to celebrate in the bill. In addition to the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program (FINI), USDA is now authorized to participate in the successful Healthy Food Financing Initiative and provide loans and grants for new retail outlets in underserved communities. Funding for the popular Community Food Projects program increases to $9 million and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program will continue to provide $20 million per year in coupons for healthy foods for low-income senior citizens. There is authorization for USDA to carry out several farm-to-school pilot projects and support for the Food Corps program. Specialty Crop Blocks Grant funding for states also increases substantially in coming years.

As the focus of local food advocates has expanded beyond farmers’ markets, attention has turned to building an infrastructure to connect regional producers with institutional buyers. The new Farm Bill creates the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program, expanding an existing program to include funding for food hub development as well as farmers’ markets and providing it with $30 million a year to fund projects nationwide.

The wheels of bureaucracy do not move swiftly, and it will take USDA staff several months to set up structures for the new programs authorized in this farm bill.  Stay tuned and FFN will continue to provide updates as we receive more information.

Fair Food Network Press Release: 2014 Farm Bill Passes Senate