By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern

The United States farm bill, as one would expect, addresses agricultural issues such as trade, conservation, and crop insurance. Some would be surprised, however, to learn that food stamps and nutrition programs are also included in the bill. In fact, the 2014 Farm Bill allocated $756 billion in spending over 10 years on food stamps and nutrition programs, claiming the largest fiscal component of the legislation. The bulk of this money is dedicated to one program: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps. For more than 50 years, SNAP has served as the nation’s primary nutritional safety net. On average, each of the 4.7 million participants receive $134 to spend on food each month. The program allows families to meet one of their most basic needs – access to food.

In 1961, a newly-inaugurated John F. Kennedy’s first Executive Order called for expanded food distribution. Just weeks after, he announced a Food Stamp Pilot Program. Researchers and analysts, both within the government and without, have studied the effects of food assistance programs, finding widespread benefits for participants and society as a whole. Ultimately, SNAP is an investment in our country’s children, boosting their capacity to learn, increasing their chances of graduating high school, and improving health outcomes in adulthood. Food assistance not only improves nutrient availability, but can also help lift families out of poverty.

Despite the benefits of nutrition assistance, its inclusion in the farm bill has been contentious. Critics argue that agricultural legislation and nutrition assistance should be addressed separately. However, including the nutrition title in the farm bill has allowed for the bipartisan support integral to the legislation’s longterm success. Urban legislators come to the table to ensure their low-income constituents find hunger relief, and their rural counterparts see to it that crop insurance, conservation, and rural development programs persist.

In addition to helping families meet basic nutritional needs, the nutrition title of the farm bill provides a guaranteed market for agricultural producers. Supplementing the diet of 1 in 7 Americans is a lot of food – and a big opportunity for farmers. SNAP redemptions, both at farmers markets and from direct-to-consumers marketing, have climbed from $4.2 million in 2009 to $18.8 million in 2014. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, these dollars provide an economic multiplier of 1.79. This means that every $5 in new SNAP benefits can generate as much as $9 of economic activity during an economic downturn.

Farmers feed people. It’s what we all set out to do, and that goal is what keeps us going. Maintaining nutrition programs like SNAP in the farm bill is vital to accomplishing this goal, and I urge you to ensure that your representatives think so too.

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