End of Expanded SNAP Benefits
Expanded SNAP (i.e., food stamps) benefits provided during the COVID-19 pandemic will end after February, 2023.
Expanded SNAP benefits generally amounted to an additional $95 per month, or the maximum benefit based on family size, wherever was greater. 32 US States were still providing the expanded benefits as of February 2023, while remaining states had already scaled back expanded benefits to normal levels.
Nearly half of SNAP recipients are Social Security beneficiaries. Social Security provided one of the largest cost-of-living (COLA) increases ever this year–8.7%–which could help offset the reduction in food benefits.
That being the case, prices are up across the economy, and the Social Security benefit increase was intended to address all inflation, not just food. Consequently, price inflation for all goods might minimize the resources a person can put towards food.
On the flip side, SNAP benefit levels are also adjusted for inflation, which means that SNAP beneficiaries received an increase this year (+12%) to account for inflation even before a Social Security COLA.
What this all means is that while the Federal Government has made more resources available to needy persons even with the elimination of supplemental SNAP benefits. Some argue, however, that at the end of the day, such support is not enough.
The estimated SNAP average benefit level per month for 2023 is $718 per month for a household of 4 persons. That works out to be daily support of about $6 per person, per day. Arguably, $6 might barely support one meal a day, much less a full day of food for a person. Of course, SNAP benefits are intended to merely supplement, not replace, household resources budgeted for food.
Food Exports from Ukraine
Russia says it will stay in the Ukraine grain export agreement (November 2) after threatening (October 29) to leave it for an “undetermined period.” The agreement, facilitated by Turkey and the United Nations, was intended to ensure the safe passage of grain shipments from Ukrainian ports through the Black Sea. Russia threatened to leave the agreement after claiming that Ukraine conducted drone attacks on Russian ships that were supposedly safeguarding grain shipments.
Ukraine reported (October 6) that 6.2 million tons of agricultural products were sent through sea ports of Ukraine, accounting for 48% of the total agricultural exports, since the agreement was put into place in late July. The agreement was intended to prevent an estimated 22 million tons of Ukrainian grain that was in danger of spoiling.
In addition, Reuters reported (September 11) that an agreement was drafted between France and Romania to cooperate on a projects to help boost Ukrainian grain shipments via Romania such as projects to increase efficiency at the port of Galati, equipping border points in northern Romania, maximizing use of grain containers stationed in the port of Constanța, maximizing capacity in the Sulina canal, and pilings to help optimize ship traffic. France will also reportedly provide funding for the initial technical expertise and work to identify future project financing.
Until the war, Ukraine had been among the world’s largest exporters of wheat, sunflower oil, and corn, which is particularly important to food supply for northern Africa and the Middle East. Shipment out of Ukrainian ports ceased at the start of the conflict given the dangers associated with wartime Black Sea shipping.
U.S. Hunger/Nutrition/Health Strategy
The Biden Administration released (September 28) a comprehensive “National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The strategy includes a broad variety of planned actions and proposed policies covering access to food, improving nutrition, and promoting healthy living.
The most impactful elements, however, in large part require actions by Congress through the provision of new funding and updated authorities in law. As the current Congress is ending and at least the House may be taken over by Republican leadership, many of most impactful actions may never move forward in the new Congress.
Some of the key actions and policies include:
Advancing access to free school meals to +9 million more students by 2032. Federally-funded school meals currently support about 30 million students.
Expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) to more children; address targeted policy changes to SNAP to expand access; and increase incentives to promote the purchasing of fruits and vegetables.
Expand online food purchasing for Women, Infants, Children (WIC) and SNAP participants through administrative and regulatory actions.
Expand funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) nutrition programs.
Adjust HUD regulations to enable the growth in public spaces in public housing for food access purposes.
Propose that Federal loan program funding be used to enhance access to, among other things, neighborhood markets, grocery stores, and community gardens.
Propose updated FDA nutrition standards for companies using a “healthy” claim on products, issue revised/reduced voluntary sodium reduction targets, and update regulations to enable the use of salt substitutes.
Global Food Security Aid
In a speech to the United Nations, President Biden announced (September 21) $2.9 billion to strengthen global food security via a package of food and agricultural development support.
The key elements of the support include:
$2 billion in humanitarian assistance that goes to not only food and nutrition, but also health care, safe drinking water, and other relief purposes.
$783 million in global development programs via the Agriculture Department such as assistance for smallholder farmers, school-based feeding programs, climate-smart agriculture, and trade facilitation.
$150 million to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.
The Administration claims that before this announcement, it had already contributed $6.9 billion toward global food security this year.
Poverty in the United States - 2021
The Census Bureau reported (September 13) that the official U.S. poverty rate for 2021 was 11.6%, with 37.9 million people in poverty, generally the same as the 2020 levels. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) rate, however, decreased from the 2020 level by 1.4% to 7.8%. This is the lowest SPM poverty rate since estimates were first published in 2009 and the third consecutive annual decline.
The official poverty rate accounts only for cash resources, while the SPM takes other non-cash assistance into account less expenses.
U.S. Food Banks - New Funding
The Agriculture Department announced (September 14) that it is injecting $2 billion into food banks and school meals programs to help stem hunger given rising food prices. Food banks and state/local emergency food purchasing programs would receive $1.5 billion, with the remaining $500 million going to school lunch and breakfast programs.
Emergency Food Assistance for Africa
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced (July 18th) emergency food assistance to horn of Africa countries – Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. An estimated $1.2 billion in food assistance will be sent to meet “immediate needs.” The U.S. recently committed to $507 million in assistance, and therefore food aid to the region will now total $1.7 billion.
USAID says some of the food assistance will include staples like sorghum and split peas, and enriched cooking oil that can help sustain those who lack access to food. About $200 million will be used for Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Food (RUTF) which the agency claims is the “the largest commitment that has ever been made to treat severely malnourished children.”
Another $200 million will be sent to UNICEF to “maximize the procurement of RUTFs,” and distribute them to the areas that most need them.
G7 Response to World Food Insecurity
The overarching action was a commitment to provide $4.5 billion towards food insecurity in 47 affected countries.
Half of the total assistance, $2.76 billion, will be provided by the United States. U.S. support will likely be drawn from a $40 billion Ukraine military and humanitarian assistance response package signed into law in May. Of the U.S. assistance, $2 billion will be to help save lives through emergency interventions.
Another $760 million will be for sustainable near-term food assistance to help mitigate further increases in poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in vulnerable countries impacted by high prices of food, fertilizer, and fuel. For example, the U.S. will commit $640 million to support bilateral targeted agriculture and food security programs to strengthen agricultural capacity and resilience in more than 40 of the most vulnerable countries – Ukraine, as well as across 24 countries and regions in Africa, 10 countries in Asia, 6 countries and regional presence in Latin American and the Caribbean, and 6 countries in the Middle East.
Memorandum on Illegal Fishing
President Biden issued a national security memorandum (June 27th) to guide efforts of the Federal Government in combating worldwide illegal fishing and “associated labor abuses,” in particular forced labor. Within the memo, the President expressed concern that illegal fishing and labor abuses “undermine U.S. economic competitiveness, national security, fishery sustainability, and the livelihoods and human rights of fishers around the world and will exacerbate the environmental and socioeconomic effects of climate change.”
The memorandum directs Federal agencies “to use the full range of existing conservation, labor, trade, economic, diplomatic, law enforcement, and national security authorities to address these challenges.” The memo then goes on to specify specific policy and diplomatic actions each relevant agency should take to meet the overarching policy guidance.
There are no specific dates and timelines in the memo for actions and/or specific outcomes.
International Fishing Trade and Malnutrition Study
A new study (led by Professor Christina Hicks of Lancaster University and published by the National Academy of Sciences) is bringing to light how the global trade of international fishing may be contributing to global malnutrition. The study finds that foreign fishing fleets and international trade contribute substantially to broad-scale redistribution of fish from the waters of the countries where they are caught and away from where the people who likely need fish for nutrition the most.
The study estimated that while 60% of countries receive net gains in nutrition from the fishing trade (with France, Japan, Italy, and Nigeria gaining the most), about one-third of nations are net losers, including significant net exporters of fish – China and Russia. Net losers also include more resilient countries such as Norway and the United Kingdom, but the nations most affected by nutrient loss are less developed, small island states such as Papua New Guinea and Guyana, as well as African countries such as Namibia and the Maldives.
Fish are an important source of bioavailable micronutrients and essential fatty acids, often providing a greater concentration and diversity of such nutrients than animal-based food on land. Ultimately, the study finds that there is a current lack of understanding of how international trade and foreign fishing affect the distribution of nutrients, and that policymakers need to “harmonize fisheries, health and trade policies to ensure nutrients reach people vulnerable to undernutrition…[and that]…decision-makers must consider nutrients derived from fisheries as a key resource that needs protection.”
Fertilizer Production Capacity
The Biden Administration announced (May 11, 2022) that it is doubling the funding in its March-announced plan to deploy a new program to expand U.S. production capacity of fertilizer. Funding will increase from $250 million to $500 million.
Fertilizer has been one of the core challenges for farmers worldwide in dealing with inflation because of the cost of energy (natural gas) used in its production. There is fear that fertilizer cost and scarcity will lead to reduced food production, inflation, and scarcity.
While this is a significant investment in a new activity, any help from U.S. fertilizer production in tapering inflation will likely not come this year. An application process for the funding will not even begin until this summer, with funding awarded towards the end of the year.
Women, Infants, Children (WIC) - FY 2022 Funding
Congress took final action on FY 2022 appropriations (March 10, 2022) extending though September 2022, expanded monthly WIC benefits covering fresh fruits and vegetables (the expanded benefit was to expire in April). Under the expanded benefits, children now receive $24 per month (instead of $9), while pregnant and postpartum participants receive $43 per month (instead of $11). Breastfeeding participants receive $47 per month. The benefit level reflects the cost of 50 percent of recommended intake according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Combating Global Malnutrition
The Biden Administration announced (December 7, 2021) that it intends to request from the Congress, and invest up to, an $11 billion investment over three years through a Feed the Future Iniative to combat global malnutrition, the underlying cause of almost half of childhood deaths globally. The Administration stated that, among other things, "this investment will enable the U.S. government to equip partner countries’ governments and communities with the skills and resources for improved health, diets, and nutrition by supporting communities in crisis with critical emergency food and nutrition assistance."
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) increased for FY 2022 monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by $36.24 per person, per month, to reflect changes in nutrition standards and an estimated 21% increase in the cost of an "effective diet". According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, prior to this increase the estimated per person average monthly benefit was $138 per month for FY 2021.
No Results Found
SNAP Formula Change/Food Allocation Increase
The Department of Agriculture announced updated policy on its "Thrifty Food Plan" used for calculating Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits. The update was tied to an reevaluation which found that a cost effective diet is 21% higher than the prior plan.
Status: this update was announced on August 16, 2021, and was implemented starting on October 1, 2021.