Tag Archives: food

USDA on Thursday will propose a rule to tighten job requirements and state rules around people on food aid who are classified as “able-bodied adults without dependents.”

USDA is attempting to implement, by rulemaking, a plan that got hung up in Congress, created a partisan divide in the House, was rejected in the Senate and eventually by the full Congress in adopting the 2018 farm bill.

The move comes as comes as President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign the 2018 farm bill into law Thursday afternoon. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated in a press call Wednesday that USDA’s moves would save $15 billion over 10 years “and give President Trump comfort enough to support a farm bill he might otherwise have opposed.”

President Trump has repeatedly pushed for tighter SNAP work requirements through tweets and comments on the farm bill in the past several months. Those provisions failed to make it into the final farm bill, which passed both chambers of Congress last week with broad bipartisan support.

Perdue told reporters Trump will sign the farm bill that reinforces the farm safety net, but Congress “missed an opportunity” to tighten the rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, so USDA will move ahead and do so itself. Perdue said the welfare reform mantra of the 1990s that federal handouts “are a second chance, not a way of life” has gotten worn down by “out of control” state flexibility standards under SNAP.

With unemployment at 3.7% unemployment nationally — the lowest since 1969 — Perdue said it’s reasonable to expect able-bodied people to look for work. Perdue and other USDA officials said the move will provide able-bodied adults without dependents more opportunities through work.

“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch,” Perdue said. “That is the commitment behind SNAP. But like other federal welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”

Under the proposal, USDA would reduce the ability of states to broaden regions in their state subject to SNAP waivers for able-bodied adults without dependents who are chronically on SNAP aid. Like everything in the federal language, able-bodied adults without dependents has the acronym “ABAWDs.”

USDA states there are 3.8 million ABAWDs on food aid, of which 2.8 million, or about 74%, are not working or undergoing some form of job-training program.

A USDA spokesman responded to DTN that USDA estimates that the proposal reduces spending on SNAP benefits by $15 billion over the years FY 2020-2029 because changes in the waiver standards will increase the number of ABAWDs subject to time limits (because they have not met work or training requirements). When the rule is published, the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) will reflect a five-year cost estimate (FY 2020-2024), with a savings of $7.9 billion. Both numbers reflect the same regulatory changes but over different time frames.

Reflecting the congressional division on the issue were opposing statements from leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committee. Outgoing House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas.

“This is an issue we took head-on in the House-passed farm bill, creating a roadmap for states to more effectively engage ABAWDs in this booming economy,” Conaway said. “Paired with the farm bill’s modernized E&T (education and training) programming and increased investment, this proposed rule will allow ABAWDs to seek new opportunities and achieve their goals. I applaud the proposed rule and proudly stand with the Trump administration in demonstrating the importance of state accountability and recipient success.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, assailed the plan and accused Perdue and USDA of going way beyond congressional intent.

“This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan farm bill that the President is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history, giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions. I expect the rule will face significant opposition and legal challenges,” Stabenow said. “Administrative changes should not be driven by ideology. I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families.”

The farm bill conference report, Stabenow’s office said, “explicitly states that waivers are necessary in areas with higher unemployment, and Congress intends to continue to give state SNAP agencies the responsibility for determining when and how waivers are submitted. Earlier this year, during the consideration of the Senate farm bill, 68 senators from both parties opposed an amendment that would have increased barriers for families on nutrition assistance and taken away states’ rights to issue waivers.”

Under the proposed rule, able-bodied adults without dependents would be able to receive SNAP benefits for three months in any three-year period, unless they work or take 20 hours of job training, language comparable to a provision removed from the final version of the farm bill.

USDA would also tighten state waivers for areas with higher unemployment and prevent states from “banking” potential waiver recipient figures for future years. Adding a little more politics to the rule, Perdue said governors also must personally sign waiver requests, showing they support the waivers.

USDA’s rule has a 60-day comment period before it could be finalized. Given that the House of Representatives also flipped to Democratic control, it’s also likely USDA’s rule could end up blocked by specific language in appropriation bills going forward.

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. school lunch program is making room on menus again for noodles, biscuits, tortillas and other foods made mostly of refined grains.

The Trump administration is scaling back contested school lunch standards implemented under the Obama administration including one that required only whole grains be served. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday only half the grains served will need to be whole grains, a change it said will do away with the current bureaucracy of requiring schools to obtain special waivers to serve select refined grains foods.

Low-fat chocolate milk will also be allowed again. Previously, only fat-free milk could be flavored, although that rule had also been temporarily waived. A final goal for limiting sodium will be scrapped as well, but schools will still be required to meet reduced sodium targets.

The School Nutrition Association, which represents local cafeteria operators and companies like Domino’s Pizza, Kellogg and PepsiCo, had called for relaxing the whole grain-only requirement, saying it was too difficult for some districts to meet.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the association, said whole-grain bread and buns generally aren’t a problem. But she said students complained about other items, in many cases because of cultural or regional preferences. Finding whole-grain biscuits and grits that students like are a challenge in the U.S. South, she said, while tortillas are a challenge in the Southwest.

Not everyone welcomed the relaxed rules.

The American Heart Association encouraged schools to “stay the course” and commit to meeting the stricter standards that started going into effect in 2012. The Center for Science in the Public Interest also said the decision to roll back the whole-grain requirement makes no sense because most schools were already in compliance.

Those still struggling to meet the standard would have eventually been able to comply as well, said Colin Schwartz, the center’s deputy director of legislative affairs.

For the current school year, the USDA said 20 percent of schools were applying for exemptions to the whole-grain rule. Pasta, tortillas, biscuits and grits were the most commonly requested items for exemption, it said.

The USDA school lunch program provides low-cost or free lunches in public schools and other institutions. Last year, it served an estimated 30 million children.

Brandon Lipps, deputy undersecretary for the USDA’s food and nutrition division, said that at some schools that only serve whole grain foods, some is wasted if students won’t eat it. In those cases, schools might now consider other options, Lipps said. The USDA defines whole grain-rich foods as at least 50 percent whole grains.