How Nutrition Assistance Can Help Farmers
SNAP and WIC
The country’s two largest nutrition assistance programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Under normal conditions, SNAP provides low-income people with a monthly “benefit” that they can only spend on food. The requirements vary from state to state but typically, people need to be near the federal poverty line to qualify. The amount of the benefit varies based on income and household size. WIC works a little differently, and provides pregnant women and mothers with young children vouchers to purchase specific eligible foods, mostly healthy staples like dairy, fruit, vegetables, and infant formula.
In an economic downturn, nutrition assistance programs play an obvious role in feeding the hungry: more unemployed people means that more people qualify for government assistance. However, SNAP and WIC are also an opportunity to help stimulate the economy, and lawmakers can tweak the programs to encourage this. Doing things like increasing the amount of money people can receive every month can have big impacts. First, people who recieve more money specifically for food can spend more of their own money on other things, which helps stimulate the rest of the economy. Second, the increased amount of money that recipients spend on food helps farmers and food retailers keep their sales up and stay in business.
Even Bigger Boosts from Double Up Food Bucks
This is especially true when increases are paired with programs like Double Up Food Bucks that match funds for purchases at farmers’ markets. This means consumers can get twice as much food out of their SNAP benefits, and gives farmers a big boost in sales. Increasing the amount of money that SNAP participants received was a critical part of the stimulus package passed during the 2008 recession, and subsequent research showed it was one of the most effective parts of the legislation: every dollar spent generated about $1.70 for the economy.
In responding to the current crisis, lawmakers laid out over a billion dollars for extra food aid in their first relief bill, including an additional $500 million for WIC. Congress also authorized a shift in funds from the School Lunch Program to SNAP, allowing families who normally rely on free school lunch to get extra SNAP money while their kids can’t go to school. The Senate’s latest agreement on the larger stimulus includes a 15% increase in the total SNAP budget, which will fuel further expansion of the program and keep food demand high.