SNAP program needs a good story to tell - The Packer

SNAP program needs a good story to tell

06/21/2013 10:09:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom Karst, National EditorTom Karst, National EditorMichigan is on to something, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should pay attention.

I recently made a call about a pilot program in Michigan that will allow Detroit consumers to “double up” on food stamp benefits to make bonus purchases of Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables in selected grocery stores.

The program, starting July 1, is funded by donations from about 40 foundations, and will be rolled out in three Detroit supermarkets.

The program will give customers who spend at least $10 on fruits and vegetables using a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program card a Double Up Food Bucks card worth $10 toward their next purchase of Michigan-grown produce, according to the Fair Food Network.

The pilot is an extension of an existing “double bucks” program for about 100 Michigan farmers markets.

While a national program to double fruit and vegetable benefits at retail for SNAP participants would likely be preferred by the produce industry, the state’s approach to promote homegrown produce in supermarkets is enlightened.

The SNAP program needs reform, as it continues to be a lightning rod for conservatives who see the ever-bigger participation numbers of the program and want to contain the program’s drain on the budget.

The contentious debate over farm bill cuts to SNAP benefits probably contributed to the farm bill’s demise. A whopping 80% of the farm bill is accounted for by food stamp expenditures, putting it squarely in the crosshairs of budget hawks.

The USDA website has an interactive map that shows the participation rate for food stamps in many U.S. states.

The map shows that in Johnson County, Kan., where I reside, the total number of SNAP recipients has risen from about 4,000 in 2000 to 22,795 people in 2012.

That’s a big increase. As taxpayers, we have to wonder: When will the numbers start to go down?

While it can be debated whether “targeting” food stamps makes political sense for Republicans, there is no doubt the SNAP program will see increased scrutiny.

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., floated an amendment that would require the Department of Agriculture to publish a detailed record online of all retail sales in the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program.

The bill would mandate that the USDA publish SNAP (food stamp) sales in a searchable format that would allow the public to see what items were purchased, where they were purchased, and at what cost.

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