House Passes Its Problematic Farm Bill, Senate to Debate Its Better Version

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

The House of Representatives took another shot at passing its version of the farm bill (H.R. 2) on Thursday, and in a razor-thin 213-211 vote, was successful this time. The same bill had failed when it was first voted upon last month (see our previous coverage here), but lawmakers had a deadline of June 22 to reconsider it. The difference this time was eight members of the Freedom Caucus, including its chairman Mark Meadows, changing their votes and supporting the bill.

We supported certain international provisions in the House farm bill, including elimination of the requirement to “monetize” U.S. commodities, but the bill has several problematic provisions related to domestic programs. It included expanded work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for parents with children between the ages of 6 and 12 who are currently exempt from such requirements, meaning that those parents will have to secure and compensate childcare services so they are able to work.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 89-3 on Monday in favor of a procedural motion to begin debate on its version of the farm bill this week. The Senate version of the bill is resoundingly bipartisan, unlike the House bill, which was passed by a narrow margin over the united opposition of Democrats. The Senate bill, which doesn’t include many of the problematic provisions included in the House bill, previously passed through the Senate’s Agriculture Committee on a 20-1 vote.

Senate Ag Committee Advances Its Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

Yesterday, by an overwhelming 20-1 vote, the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced its version of the farm bill, S. 3042. The markup of the bill, when members of the committee offer their amendments and have those amendments voted upon, ended up being largely conflict-free. We applauded the Senate bill because it did not include the harmful Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions that were included in H.R. 2, the House version of the farm bill.

Meanwhile, GOP leadership in the House has committed to holding a vote on an immigration measure supported by the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. With that vote scheduled, Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) has committed to vote in favor of H.R. 2. Meadows’ support of the bill could clear the way for other conservative members to vote for the bill before the June 22 deadline for reconsideration. (H.R. 2 failed by a 198-213 vote the first time it was considered. See our previous coverage here.)

The Senate and House bills diverge in many ways, most notably over their respective treatments of the SNAP. No members of the Senate Agriculture Committee offered amendments to the Nutrition title addressing SNAP because of the strong, bipartisan support for the program in that chamber. However, divergent opinions on the Nutrition title caused a breakdown of negotiations on the House side that stymied initial efforts to pass H.R. 2.

The House and Senate will need to come together once they pass their respective versions of the bill to negotiate a combined version that can pass both chambers, in a process called a “conference.” We will continue meeting with members of both chambers to discuss the harmful SNAP provisions in the House bill and urge that they not be included in the conference legislation.

Senate Agriculture Committee Debuts Its Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced its version of the 2018 farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 8. As expected, the bill takes a very different approach to authorizing agriculture and nutrition programs compared to the House of Representatives’ version of the bill. (As you may recall from our previous post, the House version (H.R. 2) was defeated by a 198-213 vote.)

Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) plans to give committee members a chance to add their amendments to the bill tomorrow, June 13, in a process called a ‘mark up.’ If the bill passes the committee by a wide margin, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have said they will quickly move it to the Senate floor for debate and a final vote on passage. Sen. McConnell has indicated he will allow up to three weeks of consideration for the bill.

The Senate bill does not include the harmful requirement that parents with children under 12 work in order to qualify for benefits, which was included in the failed House bill. This provision would require parents who are currently exempted from work requirements to secure supervisory care for their children under 12 years of age, which could be impractical given their financial situations.

The bill includes the removal of the requirement to monetize commodities provided through Food for Peace, which was a provision we supported in the failed House bill. Monetization is the requirement that U.S. commodities provided through USG feeding programs be sold in local markets in countries where the programs are operating, in order to finance development programs in those countries. Although U.S. commodities can be very useful when there is an absolute lack of food, they can also undercut developing local agricultural economies.

Finally, the bill does not include the relaxation of cargo preference that we asked for in the House bill. Cargo preference is the requirement that at least 50% of USG-impelled food shipments be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels. The cargo preference directs food aid resources away from the nutrition programs they are intended to support in order to subsidize U.S. shippers, because it effectively constrains the supply of ships available and enables shippers to exercise monopoly power. It can also cause significant delays in the shipment of food aid while available U.S.-flagged ships are identified and moved to appropriate ports. We plan to meet with Senate offices to ask that relaxation of cargo preference is included in the final bill. We look forward to the opportunity to reaffirm American values through this important legislation.

The House Farm Bill FAILS…What Happens Next?

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

The farm bill (H.R. 2), which must be passed every five years to authorize agriculture and nutrition programs, was rejected last week in the House of Representatives by a 198-213 vote. As we mentioned in our previous post on the topic, there were international provisions in the bill we support, including elimination of the requirement to “monetize” U.S. commodities provided through Food for Peace. We opposed several domestic provisions of the bill, including a proposal to implement stringent work requirements on recipients with young children. We were hopeful that the harmful provisions could be fixed when the House and Senate worked out the differences between their versions of the legislation (done in what’s called a “conference committee”).

However, Democrats pulled out of farm bill negotiations due to their opposition to new work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, meaning that the Speaker of the House had to pass a bill with only Republican votes. We advocated against the inclusion of the SNAP provisions, but they became necessary to passing the bill once Democrats announced their blanket opposition. This gave the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus the leverage to demand a vote on an unrelated immigration measure in exchange for their support. When their demand was rebuffed, the Freedom Caucus joined Democrats to oppose the bill, sinking it.

The real question is, what happens next. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to introduce its own farm bill early next month, and Chairman Pat Roberts has said that he “look[s] forward to a bipartisan Senate Farm Bill.” The senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (MN) said that he expects an extension of the 2014 authorization past the September 30 expiration date. House Republicans have pledged to try again to pass the farm bill, and today extended the deadline for them to reconsider the bill to June 22.

House Agriculture Committee Advances 2018 Farm Bill: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

Last Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee advanced its version of the 2018 farm bill (H.R. 2) with a favorable recommendation from the committee. The next step is an expected floor vote in early May, when Congress returns from a week-long recess.

The provisions of the bill addressing international food assistance programs contain some good news for us and the families we serve. Most importantly, the bill text includes removal of the requirement to monetize commodities in Title II of the Food for Peace program. Our Washington, D.C. team met with several offices on the Hill and asked for this requirement to be relaxed, and we’re very happy to see the provision included in the bill’s text!

However, we also asked for elimination or relaxation of “cargo preference” to be included in the bill, and that was absent from the text. “Cargo preference” is the requirement that at least 50% of USG-impelled food shipments be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels. This requirement directs food aid resources away from nutrition assistance towards ocean freight costs, and reduces the number of people who receive timely nutrition support. We are hopeful that cargo preference can still be addressed through an amendment when the bill is taken up on the House floor, and we have begun meeting with offices to push for the amendment to be included.

Although the text addressing international programs has some positives and negatives, the text addressing domestic programs is much more problematic. The bill’s text includes a proposal to eliminate the option for states to utilize “categorical eligibility” for (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) SNAP participation. If a state utilizes this option, it enables people who are already certified as eligible for a certain program, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to be automatically certified as eligible for SNAP. It helps states cut down on the paperwork required while also reducing the burden on beneficiaries. The proposal to eliminate “categorical eligibility” reduces flexibility for states while increasing the burden on program beneficiaries, with no expected cost savings other than qualified people choosing not to avail themselves of the program.

The bill also proposes to alter the work requirement exception for parents with children. Currently, parents with children aged 12 and under are excepted from work requirements, while the bill proposes to change that to parents with children aged 6 and under. Parents with children between ages 6 and 12 who currently stay home with their kids would be forced to obtain (and pay for) babysitting services, or simply leave their children home alone. Our Washington, D.C. team will oppose both domestic provisions in its meetings with Congress in the next few weeks.

How We Support This Year’s Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy

 

Congress must pass a farm bill this year. What are we doing to help?

The “farm bill” is the primary legislative vehicle authorizing the U.S. Government’s (USG) agriculture and nutrition assistance programs. An authorization bill must be passed every five years so that the programs funded by the U.S. Government are authorized to spend money that has been appropriated.

The Agricultural Act of 2014, which is the current law authorizing agricultural and nutrition assistance programs, expires September 2018. It is critical that new authorizing legislation is passed before the expiration date to ensure there is no interruption in program authorization. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are hard at work writing the bill, and our Washington, D.C. team is meeting with Committee members and their staffs to advocate for beneficial changes in how nutrition assistance programs operate.

On the domestic programs authorized by the farm bill, we will continue to defend the need for and integrity of the programs. We will oppose any effort to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Incentive Program (SNAP), which is the USG’s largest and most important nutrition assistance program. Some Members of Congress have suggested converting SNAP into state-controlled block grants that the state governments could redirect to priorities other than nutrition. We will oppose any such effort.

On international policy, we will promote language that would relax the requirement that Food for Peace programs be funded through the sale of U.S. commodities on local markets in-country, which can distort such markets. We will also advocate for changes to “cargo preference,” or the requirement that most food aid must be transported in U.S.-registered vessels, which can drive up costs and delays.

Our Washington, D.C. team will be advocating on the farm bill in the coming weeks and months. Our goal is for a re-authorization bill that includes critical reforms to pass before the current authorizing legislation expires in September.

How Do I Become an Advocate?

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy

Feed the Children fights hunger and poverty around the world. While our focus is on direct service to our beneficiaries, we also understand the massive scale of our mission. To truly defeat hunger in addition to being service provider, we must bring together like-minded organizations and advocates for our poorest communities. Our goal is systemic change to defeat hunger, and while we are a zealous advocate for good anti-hunger and anti-poverty policy, we are strictly non-partisan. We proudly work with all people of good faith who care about serving the poor.

Our Washington D.C. team regularly meets with members of Congress and their staffs, and we visited the offices of over 100 members last year. There is nothing that has more influence on a legislator than an informed and well engaged constituent. Personalized communications from a constituent stand out amid a sea of form letters and e-mails. They tell the legislator that the constituent cares about an issue enough to research his legislator’s position on the issue, compose a communication to the office, and consider the legislator’s actions on the issue when entering the voting booth. Moreover, they tell the legislator that the constituent is likely to vote.

Our efforts to affect policy in Washington D.C. depend on support from engaged and informed advocates that can reinforce our message with their members of Congress.

If you want to advocate on behalf of children in the U.S. and around the world, a good first step is to sign up for text updates from our government relations team by texting advocate to 51555, and replying yes.

We will text you when a vital issue being considered by Congress needs your immediate attention.

The next step is to get to know your members of Congress, their committee assignments, and their positions on issues related to food security and nutrition. You can find this information by submitting your address and selecting the member of Congress about whom you wish to learn, or by calling 1-800-826-3688 to be connected directly to your Representative or Senators. Explore your representatives’ websites to find out what positions they have previously taken on food security and nutrition-related issues. Some members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, are considered “champions” on food security, but every member will have something to say about a broad piece of legislation like the farm bill, which includes authorization for child nutrition programs.

Once you know who they are, you should feel free to reach out! Introduce yourself by e-mail or phone call to let the office know that you’re interested in food security and nutrition. You can explain that you will be monitoring the lawmaker’s actions on those issues. If the lawmaker is holding events that are open to the public, attend those events and ask questions regarding the lawmaker’s commitment to your issues. You want a lawmaker to remember that they have a committed advocate living in the district when the issue comes up!

Finally, make sure to follow up with the legislator’s office when they act on an issue you are passionate about, to either thank them or respectfully express your displeasure at their position. Remember that these offices are constantly barraged by appeals, often in less-than-polite language. A sincere thank you, or even a respectfully-worded disagreement, can mean a lot to a legislator and his (often underappreciated and overworked) staff.

There are many opportunities to engage in advocacy related to food security and nutrition. Please sign up now to be an advocate for hungry children in the U.S. and worldwide!

School Breakfast Program Gives Kids a Healthy Start to their Days

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy and Caitlin Duncan, Grants Management Specialist

A day at school should be filled with educational challenges and social growth. But for the roughly eight percent of American children living with food insecurity, the day usually begins with hunger. The hunger stalks them throughout their childhoods. It affects their ability to focus and learn, their prospects, even their physical growth. While their friends return from summer break with stories of family vacations, sports practices, and summer camps, food insecure children have no such stories to tell. Instead, they are relieved to be back where free and reduced-price school lunches help them recover from months of inconsistent meals, as well as sometimes feeling like a burden to their family. This is how poverty and related food insecurity psychologically traumatize children for life, and it’s happening on a massive scale. Their chronic hunger affects their education, their social opportunities and sense of self –- even their physical development.

This is why the USDA’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) is so important. Research has found that providing breakfast to students has a positive effect on their academic achievement- but the benefits extend beyond that. Busy parents can get relief in the early morning when they know there is a nutritious, affordable meal available at school. Kids have the freedom to be kids when their bellies are full and they can think about games and lessons instead of where to get their next meal.

However, not all school districts offer breakfast through SBP. The program reimburses states that offer school breakfast, but participation is optional. Moreover, the number of students eating free or reduced-price school breakfasts is often far below the number of eligible students, especially when breakfast is served before the bell and many students have not yet arrived at school.

State-level efforts are underway to change this. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) has proposed a $2 million investment in the state’s school breakfast programs in his 2017-2018 budget proposal. A bill introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature would require schools that have at least 60% of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, under the federal National School Lunch Program, to offer their students free breakfast. Feed the Children applauds these changes as a step towards achieving a hunger-free childhood for all children.

Some school districts have made efforts to integrate breakfast service into the school day, including ‘School Breakfast Weeks’ that introduce refreshments and socialization into breakfast programs. Or, instead of serving breakfast before school in a separate room, some districts have introduced food carts that serve students in their classrooms and integrate breakfast into the school day. Feed the Children encourages such innovative efforts to make consistent meals the norm.

Not sure how to get school breakfast started at your local schools? For those who would like to initiate school breakfast or expand on existing programs, the USDA provides a toolkit for parents, educators, administrators, and everyday concerned citizens to assist in this goal, called Energize Your Day with School Breakfast. This toolkit offers suggestions for engaging community stakeholders and for taking concrete action toward bringing nutritious, affordable breakfast to more school-aged children.

Encourage Your State Officials to Address School Lunch Shaming

Written by Caitlin Duncan, Grants Management Specialist

 

Making a show of throwing away a child’s hot lunch.

Making lunch contingent on performing chores in front of peers.

Sending certain children to a designated area for a cold food item.

Writing debt notices on a child’s arm.

Those examples are just some of the lunch shaming tactics that schools have used to pressure parents to repay school meal debt. The premise is that embarrassment will motivate families to pay the money back quickly. While respecting the need of school districts to recoup a sometimes staggering meal debt, we are against such practices as degrading, which can lead to a negative educational environment for children. Not having enough to eat as a child is already a discouraging struggle. Children who deal with chronic hunger should not also have to worry about public shaming when they have an overdue lunch bill.

Our vision is to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry, and in this pursuit, we believe in treating each child and family in the communities we serve with value and respect. Last summer, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees school lunch programs, imposed a July 1, 2017 deadline for states to establish policies on how to treat children who cannot pay for food. We applaud the state of New Mexico for being the first state to outlaw lunch shaming, passing the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act. The law requires schools to deal with parents–not children–regarding meal debt, ends practices meant to embarrass students, instructs schools to provide students with a USDA reimbursable meal regardless of debt, and outlines steps for schools to connect low-income families with available school lunch programs. We enthusiastically encourage state legislators across the country to follow suit and to develop similar policies that defend children’s dignity and promote students’ access to food at school.

To encourage positive changes to your state’s school lunch debt policy, find contact information for your locally elected officials here.

For ideas on what to share with your elected official, refer to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) advocacy toolkit here.

 

How Can We Do More to Help Children in the Classroom?

Written by Rhonda Watson, Director of Workplace Giving

When I was a student, I remember sitting in the front of the class, eager and ready to learn. At the beginning of every school year, I was armed with my No. 2 pencils, pens, and wide-ruled paper.

As a child, I never thought about other kids not having access to the materials needed for class. How can a student be properly engaged without a pen, pencil or paper? Will they be able to participate in the lessons, or will they just daydream? Would they daydream about a prosperous future that’s not achievable without a good education? Would they dream about never being bullied again for being “different” than the other kids who have school supplies?

If you’re hungry, homeless or without life’s essentials, your dreams may be different. I want kids to dream big, and with an education, they can create a path for success. If they have the right tools to succeed in the classroom, their good grades and participation can open the door to infinite possibilities.

In December 2016, the Hunger and Homelessness Survey stated Washington D.C. has 124 homeless people for every 10,000 residents. Nationwide, the rate of homelessness is about 17 per 10,000 people.

When it comes to school-aged children, there are about 3,551 homeless students in Washington D.C. alone. How can we empower the students in our community? How can we give them the materials they need for success? They are the next generation and they deserve the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and to excel.

Can you join our dream? Feed the Children would like your help to make sure all children in the Washington D.C. area have a backpack to achieve their dreams. Our backpacks are filled with school supplies, hygiene items and healthy snacks  – all for the cost of only $20.

On June 8, we will participate in United Way’s campaign called Do More 24. It’s a 24-hour online fundraiser to help the 1,500 homeless kids in DC. Please join us by logging on to make an investment in the life of a child.

Visit the Feed the Children page on the Do More 24 website for more information http://domore24.org/npos/feed-the-children.