United Fresh praises BPC SNAP report as FRAC, FMI criticize it | TheFencePost.com

United Fresh praises BPC SNAP report as FRAC, FMI criticize it

-The Hagstrom Report

The United Fresh Produce Association praised the Bipartisan Policy Center's new report on nutrition in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the Food Research & Action Center, an anti-hunger group, and the Food Marketing Institute criticized it over several recommendations.

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel said the report, Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health, "is a critically important step forward to advance the conversation about how to maximize nutrition and healthy eating in the nation's primary feeding program, the Supplemental Nutrition and Access Program. The BPC Task Force is to be commended for its clear linkage that healthy eating among SNAP recipients will have a direct positive impact on health outcome and reduce national healthcare costs."

The report recommends continuing the incentives for SNAP beneficiaries to buy more fruits and vegetables.

"In the last decade, the federal government has made significant strides to better align feeding programs with sound nutrition, including adding fruit and vegetable vouchers to the Women, Infant and Children food package, and clearly linking early childcare, school breakfast and lunch programs to reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," Stenzel said. "It is now time for a serious discussion about how SNAP can be modernized to reflect the nutritional needs and health realities of SNAP recipients."

United Fresh did not mention the report's recommendations to ban the purchase of sweetened beverages and collect store-by-store data on food purchases by SNAP beneficiaries so that the information can be used in food and health policy.

FRAC has long taken the position that the SNAP program should not restrict what foods beneficiaries can buy because low-income people should have the same right to choose foods as other Americans.

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In a statement, FRAC President Jim Weill said that the report does not address the "bedrock strategies" that would help SNAP participants get more access to healthier foods and that restrictions would complicate management of the program.

"The two most important ways to build on the already very positive health impacts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are 1) to increase the monthly allotment to improve dietary adequacy, and 2) to address under-participation in the program by vulnerable eligible people (e.g., seniors)," Weill said in a statement. Weill added it is "disappointing" that the report "does not address the bedrock strategies to leverage SNAP for better health. Instead, the task force proposes less impactful ideas, like restricting food choice that run real risks of causing SNAP considerable harm. Restrictions do this both by stigmatizing beneficiaries and throwing sand in the gears of this very successful program."

Weill noted that the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service has said that restricting food choice would lead to increased administrative complexity, and that it would be difficult to single out certain types of foods.

Food Marketing Institute Chief Public Policy Officer and Senior Vice President for Government Relations Jennifer Hatcher said, "After nearly three years and dozens of public hearings, it is unfortunate that the Bipartisan Policy Center lacks credibility as an integral part of the policy process in its release today of proposals related to SNAP that have been previously considered and rejected. Among the BPC's recommendations are the imposition on food retailers of additional fees without any apparent added benefits to program participants, as well as the costly collection and reporting of store-level sales data that would constitute an anti-competitive food retail environment.

"FMI and its members are focused on working with lawmakers and current administration officials to identify real and thoughtful reforms that will improve the efficiencies and outcomes of the program, rather than increase costs for all customers," Hatcher added. "Sadly, the BPC's 11th-hour proposals are a distraction to a serious effort to develop a farm bill that can move through congress and strengthen SNAP."

Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a co-chair of the task force that wrote the report, said during a discussion at the BPC on March 12 that he realized the recommendations — particularly on banning sweetened beverages — would be controversial. Glickman has also chaired the FRAC board and acknowledged in an interview Friday that he has previously opposed any restrictions on what SNAP beneficiaries buy. But Glickman said he considers the evidence of the bad effects of sweetened beverages on health to be so strong that they should be banned from the SNAP program. Glickman also said that banning sweetened beverages from SNAP could also influence the buying habits of other Americans.

The other chairs of the task force were former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.