President Obama Signed the Farm Bill into Law at Michigan State University

by Lindsay Felsing, MSW; Director, Economic Security

You may have heard about President Obama coming all the way to Michigan State University to sign the Farm Bill into law last Friday, but what does it all mean and how does it affect seniors in Michigan? Let’s break it down.

What is the Farm Bill? The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation, typically passed every five years, that governs America’s nutrition and agriculture policy including hunger-relief programs[1] such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. SNAP is the single largest program in the Farm Bill, and is a part of its Nutrition Title. The Farm Bill also includes farm subsidy legislation. Michigan’s very own Debbie Stabenow (D) chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee which provides legislative oversight for the bill. The MiCAFE program at Elder Law of Michigan is relieved that the farm bill was signed last week, as this will continue to support MiCAFE’s efforts in providing access to food assistance benefits to eligible seniors in Michigan.

What is SNAP (formerly known as food stamps)? In Michigan, we call SNAP the Food Assistance Program (FAP). Food assistance benefits provide hunger-relief to low-income Michiganders via the Bridge Card which can be used like a debit card at stores to purchase food. You might see EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer, in the windows of grocery stores that accept Food Assistance benefits.

SNAP benefits go to vulnerable households. More than three out of four SNAP recipients is a senior, child, or disabled person.[2] Food assistance is designed to respond to the economy to make sure that people have access to food during periods of recession.[3] Many families no longer need or qualify for the benefit when unemployment is no longer an issue for them.

Many seniors living in poverty, however, are not returning to employment and rely on a fixed income of Social Security and need food assistance to put food on the table and free up money for other expenses like medical bills and housing costs. Elder Law of Michigan’s MiCAFE program (Michigan’s Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly), in partnership with over 133 community-based organizations across the state, helps thousands of low-income seniors apply for Food Assistance every year.

SNAP helps low-income Michigan seniors make ends meet. Prior to receiving food assistance, 50% of MiCAFE applicants reported having had to rely on a food bank or food pantry to get enough food to eat or having had to choose between paying for food or utility bills.

What’s in the 2014 Farm Bill Nutrition Title? The Farm Bill that President Obama signed into law included $8 billion in cuts to the SNAP program across ten years. Additionally, the bill ensures that lottery winners and affluent college students are ineligible for SNAP and aims to strengthen program integrity by addressing fraud and misuse.[4] There are no new eligibility requirements as a part of the new bill.

The Farm Bill includes $100 million for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program. This program provides grants for projects to incentivize SNAP participants to purchase nutritious fruits and vegetables. This model was modeled after programs like Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks which doubles consumers’ purchasing power and support local Michigan farmers.

How will the $8 billion cut to SNAP affect the individual? These cuts to SNAP will cause an estimated 850,000 low-income households across the country, concentrated in certain states, to lose an average of $90 in monthly benefits.[5]

These cuts followed the approximate $11 billion in cuts to the SNAP program that occurred in November 2013 as a result of the ending of the President’s stimulus package. In Michigan, this meant many households saw their benefits drop by $11 or more depending on household size and financial situation. This may seem small, but can have a significant impact on a limited budget. Impacted households may have to turn to emergency food providers and food banks to put food on the table.

Elder Law of Michigan secured additional funding from the National Council on Aging to help low-income seniors apply for and enroll in the Food Assistance Program. This additional funding will allow Elder Law of Michigan’s MiCAFE program to expand its service area, employ innovative methods of outreach, and increase the number of seniors served by nearly 50%.

Are you or is someone you know having trouble putting food on the table and making ends meet? Call Elder Law of Michigan’s One Call for Help at 1-866-400-9164

FURTHER READING:

1. Meet the New Farm Bill from the Weekly Standard: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/meet-new-farm-bill_781555.html?page=1
2. Summary of the 2014 Farm Bill Nutrition Title from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4082
3. (this one is negative toward new bill) Feeding America Responds to New Farm Bill Agreement from Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/press-room/press-releases/feeding-america-response-farm-bill-2014.aspx
 
4. Michigan’s Food Assistance Program from Michigan League for Public Policy: http://www.milhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/MIFoodAssistanceMarch12FINAL.pdf
 
5. (older) House clears farm bill from Politico: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/house-farm-bill-102806_Page2.html
 
6. A triumphant day for Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan Radio: http://michiganradio.org/post/triumphant-day-sen-debbie-stabenow

Lindsay Felsing is the Director of Economic Security at Elder Law of Michigan. She joined Elder Law in 2011 as the Regional Project Manager for MiCAFE, was promoted to Assistant Director in 2012, and then assumed the position of Director in 2013. Through her work at Elder Law, Lindsay has managed over 100 community partners and 200 volunteers across the state of Michigan – including recruitment, training, and education related to the State of Michigan Food Assistance Program.

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[1] From Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/Home/FarmBill.aspx?convio_source=Y13XPEGAA&convio_subsource=gfarmbill&s_keyword=gfarmbill&gclid=CPenzML11bwCFcY7MgodOlIAfg

[4] From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4082

 

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