A push to support ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ in next round of aid

Jul 10, 2020
In The News

A push to support ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ in next round of aid

Written by Helena Bottemiller Evich
Published by Politico

With help from Ximena Bustillo, Gavin Bade, Doug Palmer and Liz Crampton

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— A bipartisan roster of lawmakers is asking for $51 million in emergency funding for fruit and vegetable incentive programs in the next coronavirus aid package.

— Roughly 1 in 6 households with children report that their kids are sometimes or often not eating enough food during the pandemic, a rate that is many times higher than anything economists have seen in the past few decades.

— Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, outlined a U.S.-centric trade policy during a campaign speech in Pennsylvania on Thursday, suggesting significant investment needs to happen domestically before new trade agreements.

HAPPY FRIDAY, JULY 10! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host is now nerding out over the Food Timeline after reading about “the single most comprehensive inventory of food knowledge on the internet.” Send tips to hbottemiller@politico.com and @hbottemiller, and follow us @Morning_Ag.


A PUSH TO SUPPORT ‘DOUBLE UP FOOD BUCKS’ IN NEXT ROUND OF AID: There’s a growing bipartisan coalition pushing for emergency funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (now GusNIP, formerly known as FINI), which supports initiatives like “Double Up Food Bucks” to give Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants extra benefits to spend on produce at grocery stores and farmers markets.

Match funds dry up: The popular program is being stretched during the pandemic because it requires that grantees get their federal funds matched by outside sources, but philanthropy and state coffers are being squeezed right as demand for nutrition assistance is exploding.

“Without an emergency increase, GusNIP grantees will be faced with exhausted funding exactly at the time they are most needed in the recovery phase of the pandemic,” reads a June letter to House leadership, led by Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Rick Crawford (R-Ark.). The letter was signed by nearly 80 members on both sides of the aisle.

On tap: A similar coalition is currently being organized in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the chamber will focus on the next coronavirus package this month, with the goal of finishing before both chambers depart for their lengthy August break.

The bench: The ask is backed by the Fair Food Network, which pioneered the Double Up Food Bucks program, as well as the National Grocers Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, the U.S. Apple Association, National Potato, and the Farm Credit Council.

UNPRECEDENTED NUMBER OF KIDS NOT GETTING ENOUGH TO EAT: At the end of June, more than 16 percent of households with children reported that children under the age of 18 in their home were sometimes or often not eating enough due to a lack of resources — a rate that’s more than five times higher than it was in 2018, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institution based on recent weekly Census Bureau survey data.

“New data show that an unprecedented number of children in the United States are experiencing food insecurity and did not have sufficient food as of late June,” wrote Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project.

The political context: The findings come as Congress is expected to work on another round of coronavirus aid later this month, as your host reports. Democrats have been pushing for a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits as well as an extension of recent SNAP benefit increases, including Pandemic-EBT.

What are we going to do about schools? The findings also place a new level of pressure on policymakers to figure out how to best feed some 30 million schoolchildren as states and localities mull how they can safely operate schools this year.

USDA ALLOWS MORE SPECIALTY CROPS TO GET IN ON AID: The Agriculture Department on Thursday said it will now offer aid to producers of more than 40 new specialty crops through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that Congress authorized. The move comes after many commodity groups lobbied to be included, POLITICO’s Ximena Bustillo reports.

Applications for CFAP opened on May 26 and USDA expects it will get 1.6 million by the Aug. 28 deadline. As of Monday, nearly $5.4 billion of the money had been distributed.

Changing the math: The department is also providing more money to seven currently eligible commodities — apples, blueberries, garlic, potatoes, raspberries, tangerines and taro — for sales losses, and determined that peaches and rhubarb no longer qualify for payment under the sales loss category. USDA is also changing the payment rates for several commodities, from apples to kiwifruit and taro.

More to come? USDA expects additional eligible commodities to be announced in the coming weeks. But with more farmers now eligible for aid, the program could run dry even faster and raise the pressure on Congress and the Trump administration to provide more agricultural aid in a future stimulus package.


BIDEN LEANS INTO ‘BUY AMERICAN’: It’s been rather quiet on the campaign trail during the pandemic, but Biden on Thursday laid out what his campaign called a “build back better” plan to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, centered around strengthened “Buy American” rules for the federal government that he said would lead to $400 billion in new demand for U.S.-made products.

Trade deals can wait: Only after that plan is complete would Biden look to renegotiate trade deals signed by President Donald Trump or look to negotiate new ones, a senior campaign aide told our friends at Morning Trade.

“He’s not gonna go in in 2021 and start talking about reentering or about entering new trade deals before he has done the work at home to make the investments in American job creation, American competitiveness and American communities,” said the aide. “Trade negotiations over big trade deals is something that will in sequence follow a dramatic set of domestic investments.”

A China strategy: Still, the aide said Biden would engage allies right away to “present a common front to China on many of its abuses.” In a campaign document released ahead of the speech, Biden blasted Trump’s unilateral approach to China and pledged to take “aggressive trade enforcement actions against China” or other countries engaged in unfair trade practices.

“Trump’s go-it-alone trade war and empty ‘phase one’ deal with China has been an unmitigated disaster, inflicting maximum pain on American workers and farmers, while doing nothing to curb Beijing’s trade abuses,” the campaign document said.


— The House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote a $24 billion fiscal 2021 Agriculture-FDA bill on Thursday with only minor changes to its farm spending provisions. The bill includes a provision that would block USDA from cracking down on SNAP eligibility rules. More from Pro Ag’s Ryan McCrimmon.

— Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall is “in good spirits” as he fights Covid-19 while quarantined at home, a spokesperson said. Duvall was able to join a staff netting virtually on Thursday.

— A Cyclospora outbreak tied to bagged lettuce mix has sickened at least 509 people, the CDC reported on Thursday.

— The number of SNAP households using their EBT benefits online has shot up more than twentyfold during the pandemic, with Amazon and Walmart doing most of that business, The Counter reports. USDA said it did not have data to share on total dollar amounts spent online.

— A new bill in the House would create a new post at USDA focused solely on coordinating supply chain issues, a role that would include matching up surplus product with organizations in need. The measure was introduced this week by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.). A companion bill was introduced last month by Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.).

— A health clinic in Illinois is stepping up testing of migrant farm workers as cases rise among the vulnerable population, reports Illinois Public Media. It’s part of a national effort to expand testing for farm workers across the country.

— Washington’s Yakima County, the biggest supplier of sweet cherries, apples and hops, is dealing with a spike of coronavirus cases in an already challenging year, the Washington Post reports.

— California plans to hire hundreds of additional firefighters to offset a pandemic-spurred reduction in prison inmate firefighting crews, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Thursday. More from POLITICO Pro California.

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