Stabenow to use Finance post to promote medically necessary foods |

Stabenow to use Finance post to promote medically necessary foods

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee but is also the chair of the Senate Finance Committee Health Care Subcommittee, said Wednesday she will use her position on Finance to promote “medically necessary meals” in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.In a speech to the Consumer Federation of America Food Conference, Stabenow said she favors a demonstration project because that has proven to be a good way to start innovative nutrition programs that are in the farm bill.

Stabenow’s willingness to use her position on finance to promote meals that would promote good health and be used as a way to treat patients is good news for the Biden administration, which has included meals in the Medicare and Medicaid program in its national strategy on hunger, nutrition and health.

Stabenow also noted that she could not use her position as chair of agriculture or the farm bill to achieve goals involving the Medicare and Medicaid program, which are under the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee and run by the Health and Human Services Department.

Stabenow also told reporters that she hopes that Alexis Taylor, President Biden’s nominee for agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, and Jose Emilio Esteban to be agriculture undersecretary for food safety, will be confirmed by the Senate during the lame-duck session.

Asked if there are any holds on the nominees, Stabenow said there are none that can’t be overcome.
Asked about Biden’s nomination of Doug McKalip to be chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Stabenow said she could not address McKalip’s lack of confirmation because it is under the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee. But she noted that she and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., have both called for McKalip to be confirmed.

Stabenow also noted that senators often place holds on nominations that have nothing to do with the nominees but because they have issues with the agencies in which the nominees will serve.
After her speech, Michael Jacobson, former head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, asked Stabenow if she favored banning the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Stabenow said she does not support a ban on any foods in SNAP. “I don’t think low-income people should be told they can’t do something everybody else can do. To only say we are going to restrict what poor people can buy and not everybody else — that is the wrong way to go. It is an equity issue — a policy that leads to a whole range of things that would not be good.

”In the wide-ranging speech, Stabenow noted that over the course of the 45-year history of the Consumer Federation of America, food stamps – the previous name for SNAP – had been included in the farm bill for the first time in 1970, that the 1980s saw the first conservation title in the farm bill, that the 1990s were marked by the creation of the National Organic Program, and the 2000s to the scientific approach to food safety and the creation of the position of the agriculture undersecretary for food safety.

Stabenow said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “atrocities in Ukraine” have proved the importance of helping local and regional food processing.

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health was “really great and important,” said Stabenow, who spoke at the event.

Stabenow also said she had to give “a big shout-out” to President Biden and to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for their implementation of “the progressive things we put in the [2018] farm bill.” She noted that the Trump administration had not acted on the bill’s provisions to update the Thrifty Food Plan that determines the level of SNAP benefits or create the Office of Urban Agriculture, but the Biden administration did both.

Stabenow said Biden asked her for a list of things the administration could do administratively, and “we gave him a very long list.”

Stabenow said she is a particular fan of the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which gives low-income consumers incentives to buy more fruits and vegetables.
She also asked CFA members to help pass the next farm bill.

“It is critical we have the broadest coalition possible to pass the farm bill,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow has said Congress will not go backward on nutrition benefits, but whether there is a debate over cutting benefits will depend on which party wins a majority in the election and who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and the “dynamics” in the House.

Stabenow noted that she and Boozman have “a wonderful partnership” and have been operating as a team on hearings.

Stabenow told reporters she plans to hold “a couple” more hearings during the lame-duck session.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks to the Consumer Federation of America Food Conference on Wednesday. Photo by Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report
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