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Fighting Hunger: Closing the Summer Feeding Gap

Summer is tough to enjoy when you’re hungry. It’s a hard reality that many kids from low-income households face when school is out and the weather turns sunny. To help close the summer feeding gap, the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer demonstration offers a new model to do just that.

Without the daily nutrition provided by the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, many families facing poverty are also experiencing its most difficult symptom: hunger. USDA has several tools to help solve this problem, with the newest addition being the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children demonstration project, commonly referred to as Summer EBT.

Healthful Foods Could Be Just a Click Away: FNS Works to Bring Online Shopping to SNAP Purchases

Online grocery shopping has been an option for many busy American families for years. But for the 44 million Americans who use benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to supplement their food budget, this option has not been available…yet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of bringing online purchasing to those who use SNAP benefits. Online purchasing could improve access to healthy food for those living in food deserts—areas with sparse options to buy healthy groceries—or for those who are unable to physically shop on their own due to a disability or transportation barrier.

Ensuring Program Integrity in the WIC Program

For more than 40 years, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has provided supplemental foods and nutrition services vital to the health and nutrition of vulnerable moms, newborns and young children. And throughout those four decades, we’ve had a long-standing history of working with WIC state agencies to ensure program resources and taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.

While a 2013 study found a relatively low rate of improper vendor payments, (representing less than 1.5 percent of WIC food expenses), FNS has and will continue to intervene when problems arise and to require state agencies to improve the integrity of their programs.

FNS Requests Feedback to Strengthen Program Integrity, Improve Technology

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is committed to supporting struggling families and helping the most vulnerable Americans put food on the table.  Today, over 60 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants are children, elderly, or have disabilities.   The WIC program – officially known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – plays a vital role in the health of low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants and young children during critical periods of growth and development.

So it’s no surprise that we’re dedicated to ensuring participants have efficient access to programs essential to their health and well-being.  To this end, FNS is looking for ways to increase competition in the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system, the process by which most benefits are redeemed.  All SNAP state and local agencies and some WIC agencies conduct EBT using magnetic stripe cards similar to debit or credit cards.  By FY 2021, all WIC agencies will be required to use EBT.

New Day, Same Mission: The Evolution of SNAP

This fall, USDA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which made the Food Stamp Program permanent.  In looking back over the past 50 years, there are two notable events in the program’s history that had a significant impact on the transformation of the original Food Stamp Program in 1964 to the program we know today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

First, the Food Stamp Act of 1977 was a major program milestone, because it established national eligibility standards for participation and eliminated the purchase requirement for food stamps.  The new standards meant that the amount of benefits a household received depended on the household’s size, income, and expenses, a standard that remains today.  The elimination of the purchase requirement meant that people received their benefits upfront, without the intermediary step of purchasing the food stamp first.  The Food Stamp Act of 1977, therefore, removed a major barrier to participation in the program while also ensuring that benefits would be targeted to those most in need.  As a result, the mission of the Food Stamp Program to mitigate the effects of poverty was strengthened.

USDA, Partners Work to Expand SNAP Access at Farmers Markets

As spring marches closer, farmers markets across the country are ramping up or reopening for the season. In addition to year-round staples like local milk, meat, and grains, the stars of the season—asparagus, onions, new potatoes, lamb, and greens of all varieties—are beginning to make their debuts. In a few months’ time, the markets will be in full swing, bursting with berries and zucchini and other summer fruits and vegetables. Here at USDA, we’re working hard to ensure participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have access to this healthful, local bounty.

Remarkable progress has been made in providing better access to the nation’s 8,200 farmers markets and farm stands; more than 4,200 markets and direct marketing farmers now redeem SNAP benefits.  Beyond providing heightened access to farmers markets, we know that coupling access with incentives to purchase healthy products while at the market helps SNAP recipients consume a healthy diet. A new report from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service makes clear that private sector organizations share the goal of increasing access and incentives, and are willing to dedicate financial resources to ensuring the success of this approach. Researchers for the Farmers Market Incentive Provider Study interviewed representatives from more than 100 organizations that provide financial incentives to SNAP participants redeeming their benefits at farmers markets.  Wholesome Wave is a great example of a not-for-profit organization that partners with 305 farmers markets in 24 states with nutrition incentive programs for doubling SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market vouchers at farmers markets.

USDA Then and Now

For over a century and a half, USDA has worked alongside farmers, businesses, and community leaders to ensure USDA programs put forward the most innovative thinking to meet the changing needs of a modern agricultural landscape. Mission areas across USDA, from agricultural research to forest management to nutrition programs and more, also look forward to create a stronger rural America, better prepared to meet 21st century challenges.

Secretary's Column: All Americans Benefit from Local and Regional Markets

One very important reason for Congress to expedite work toward a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is to continue today’s rapid growth in local and regional marketing opportunities for American agriculture.

From local farmers markets to regional food hubs, these new opportunities benefit a wide range of Americans from all walks of life.

They benefit farmers and ranchers who are looking to start selling locally or scale up to regional sales. Farmers markets and regional food hubs have a particularly positive impact for small and limited-resource producers. Sales of local foods are growing rapidly, creating a multibillion-dollar market opportunity for producers.

Farmers in Alabama Reach More Customers with Electronic Benefit Transfer

What Agriculture Under Secretary Concannon calls a win-win situation, is taking root in rural Alabama with help from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and state officials.  Local farmers’ markets are getting authorized to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards which will allow them to expand their customer base and offer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants healthy and local produce.

With federal grant money provided to states through September 30, 2013, eligible farmers’ markets and now direct marketing farmers are receiving free wireless point-of-sale (POS) devices. As part of the Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) StrikeForce efforts to reach out to communities in persistent poverty stricken areas, its Southeast Regional Office recently offered three farmers’ market sign-up days in Madison, Selma, and Robertsdale, Alabama.

Secretary's Column: Celebrating America's Farmers Markets

Over the first week of August, local markets across the country celebrated National Farmers Market Week.

Farmers markets are an important part of America’s diverse agriculture sector, providing unique benefits to communities across our nation. They give Americans a chance to learn about agriculture by meeting some of the people who grow and raise our food. They provide valuable marketing opportunities for small and beginning farmers – many of whom scale up to larger regional markets and other institutions.  And they help expand access to locally-grown foods that are in greater demand than ever before.