Last year, Ann and I applied for Hobbs Farm Stand to be eligible for the New York State Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). The NYS Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program is a fantastic program that allows eligible individuals to receive checks for the purpose of shopping at local farmer’s markets only. The goal is for eligible NYS residents to have the opportunity to purchase fresh, local vegetables and fruits. Hobbs Farm Stand was accepted to the program which introduced many new customers to our Centereach farm stand. I personally was very excited that NYS was offering this healthy opportunity for people in need. We reapplied for the NYS FMNP program for the upcoming 2018 season.
Introducing a Shelf-Stable, Processed Food Box
About a week or 2 ago, I briefly heard something on the news about the administration releasing its fiscal year 2019 budget proposal which included a proposed overhaul to the Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), typically referred to as food stamps. The proposal removes the ability of the food stamp recipients to choose the food they buy with their SNAP benefits and replaces it with a USDA food package. The media was actually calling this replacement a Blue Apron-style food package. When the Blue Apron brand was used, I thought that this must be a very positive and healthy change as that is what Blue Apron represents. Maybe this food package would be a healthy and diverse box of food?
I was curious so I did a bit more research….
So, under the proposal, eligible SNAP recipients would receive a package that consists of “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.” The boxes would NOT Include fresh fruits and vegetables. This so-called Blue Apron-style box did not represent the Blue Apron mission. My new understanding of this proposed change disappointed and saddened me. Not one item in this USDA food package would be fresh and nutritious.
So why does the government want to make this change? Money! The administration says that ‘it is a cost effective approach with no loss in food benefits to participants. The USDA believes that state governments will be able to deliver this food at much less cost than SNAP recipients currently pay for food at retail stores – thus reducing the overall cost of the SNAP program by $129 billion over the next 10 years.’ But we seem to have forgotten about the importance of nutrition and how the lack of nutritious food in these boxes will contribute to decreased health and increased medical expense.
Let’s stop and think about this for a minute….So we are saving money because we are forcing unhealthy food choices on SNAP recipients. We are going to negotiate big, profitable deals with some of the largest cereal companies and have their boxed cereals distributed to every SNAP recipient in America. We are, in essence, removing the ability to CHOOSE healthy food from the SNAP benefits.
So, before I became too frustrated, I wanted to understand the buying behaviors of current SNAP recipients. What are they actually buying with their SNAP checks today and will this be a significant change to what they typically buy with their checks? If they are currently buying boxed and canned goods predominately, this boxed option may not be a significant change for them.
Buying Behaviors of Food Stamp Recipients
Through my online research, I uncovered a USDA Food and Nutrition Service analysis distributed in November 2016 that showed the Foods Typically Purchased by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Households. I am attaching the summary pdf and full analysis below so you can review the details. The USDA had some limitations to the data that they were able to collect which is described in the documents. However, they were able to gather enough data to identify the types of food categories that were being purchased by SNAP recipients. Here is a brief review of what I learned:
Differences in the expenditure patterns of SNAP and non-SNAP households were relatively limited, regardless of how data was categorized.
- About 40 cents of every food purchase dollar was spent on basic items like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread.
- Another 20 cents was spent on sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.
- The remaining 40 cents was spent on a variety of items such as cereal, prepared foods, other dairy products, rice, beans, and other cooking ingredients.
The most important finding from this document is that 40 cents of every food purchase dollar was spent on meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread. The new USDA food box contains none of these items except for shelf-stable milk. Shelf-stable milk is processed in a way that allows it to remain un-refrigerated. So, if you are one of the food stamp recipients (and we never know when our economic situation may change and require us to be eligible), how would you feel if you could not purchase fruits, vegetables, meat, fresh milk, eggs and bread with your food stamps anymore??
Look, I am not a politician and I am not privy to all of the facts and financials related to why the federal government feels that this change is necessary . I am just a marketer and farmer living in suburbia who is focused on trying to get healthy, local, organically grown produce to everyone who wants it. SNAP recipients are using 40% of the check amounts for fruits, vegetables and protein – these are the primary food groups that help keep us healthy. If we remove the option to purchase these items, is our federal government putting the health and well-being of Americans first? Or are we prioritizing money and profit ahead of our nation’s health?
This is why Ann and I will continue to support programs such as the NYS Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program at Hobbs Farm Stand, why HeartBeet Farms will try its best to keep our organically grown produce pricing as competitive as possible, and why Hobbs Farm will continue to donate over 33,000 lbs of organically-grown produce to local food pantries. We need programs that allow all people access to healthy food…real food!