The Farm Bill Nutrition Title contains the nation’s largest nutrition and food security programs, supporting low-income families to access healthy foods through supplemental funding, direct food assistance and funding for organizations administering critical nutrition support programs. This federal nutrition assistance reaches Minnesotans of all ages, races and life circumstances, including families, women and infants, veterans, people with disabilities, military families, low paid workers and those who are unemployed or underemployed. The decisions on the next version of the Farm Bill will have a huge impact on Minnesota communities.
The Farm Bill was established in 1933 and initially focused on farm commodity support for commodity crops (such as corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, dairy and sugar) with only small contributions toward food assistance. However, the scope of Farm Bill substantially increased with the introduction of the Nutrition Title in 1973. Today, support for nutrition programs is the largest component of the Farm Bill budget, comprising about 75% of total Farm Bill funding — that's $325.8 billion over five years for the 2018 Farm Bill!
Nutrition support from Farm Bill funding is critical for Minnesotans, particularly as food insecurity skyrocketed during the pandemic and following rapid inflation of food prices paired with the loss of pandemic relief programs. One in six Minnesotans experienced food insecurity in 2021, with one in 11 kids lacking access to needed nutrition. BIPOC communities face additional structural barriers to nutrition access, and in Minnesota, 25% of Black households experienced food insecurity, as compared to 4% of white households in 2020. Seniors are the fastest growing group of food shelf visitors. Minnesota had a record 5.6 million food shelf visits in 2022, which is 1.7 million more visits than the previous record set in 2020 and 1.9 million more than 2021.
Politically, the nutrition components of the Farm Bill have sometimes become a flashpoint in negotiations and public debate, with conservative factions pushing to cut nutrition funding and progressives advocating for expanded funding. However, the combination of multiple priorities addressing rural and urban concerns in the Farm Bill creates the potential for opposing factions to come together around the legislation; in fact, in a presentation on why rural communities need the Farm Bill nutrition programs, National Farmers Union President Rob Larew asserted that a strong nutrition title is necessary to pass the Farm Bill, while president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation Dan Glessing has asserted that they oppose any cuts to nutrition assistance. This contentious disagreement has given opposing factions negotiating power to trade support for each other's priorities to get the full Farm Bill across the finish line. It looks like nutrition benefits will once again be a sore pointin Farm Bill negotiations for this iteration of the Bill. Minnesotans are geared up to defend this vital support. Hunger Solutions MN Policy Director Leah Gardner shares,
“Looking at this through an anti-hunger lens, we need a better functioning, more just food system. Any cuts to SNAP are a nonstarter. Any Congresspeople entertaining that are killing the chance of getting a Farm Bill done, and we need to stay really crystal clear on that. We are going to be really firm in the anti-hunger community that no cuts to SNAP are acceptable. Food insecurity continues to be at an all-time high, unfortunately increasing and not even leveling off yet. It really is simple: we are not going to cut SNAP. From our perspective no Farm Bill is better than a bad Farm Bill.”
Decisions on Farm Bill funding will be a determining factor in whether Minnesotans will have access to the nutrition they need to survive and thrive.
Key Nutrition Title programs include:
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”)
SNAP is a county-run, state-supervised federal program that provides food benefits to low-income families to increase their grocery budget, with the intention of supplementing their food purchases rather than covering all the groceries a family needs. Participants receive a monthly electronic transfer of funds to their SNAP card, which can be used to buy food directly from grocery stores, convenience stores, authorized Meals on Wheels locations, and increasing numbers of farmers markets and direct-market farmers. The amount of benefits depends on the level of need, with lower income households qualifying for more SNAP benefits; the average benefit amount per household member in 2023 was $157 per month (or $5.16 per day). SNAP funds can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, dairy, bread and cereal, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, and seeds and starts for food-producing plants; SNAP funds cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, medicines, live animals, hot prepared foods or non-food items. In 2022, supplemental nutrition funding through SNAP reached 435,900 Minnesota residents, or 8% of the population. More than 64% of SNAP participants in Minnesota are families with children, more than 33% have family members who are older or disabled, and more than 54% are in working families. This program is incredibly effective in reducing hunger and food insecurity by providing targeted assistance to directly purchase needed food. SNAP funding is also a boon to local economies — it is typically spent quickly and generates an additional $1.50-1.80 of local economic activity. Food insecurity rates are higher in rural communities than in urban communities, and SNAP can reduce rates in both: an American Enterprise Institute report from 2022 found that SNAP benefits reduced the rural poverty rate by 1.4% and urban poverty rate by 0.8% in 2020.
Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
FDPIR provides USDA foods to low-income households on Indian reservations and to Native American families in designated areas near reservations. Boxes of food are often distributed monthly and include items like fresh and canned vegetables, frozen meats, breakfast cereals, cheese and butter. Tribal community programs administer the programs locally, ordering the food for USDA to purchase and ship to them to distribute to community members. Eligibility requirements for FDPIR and SNAP are similar, but not identical. Households cannot participate in both FDPIR and SNAP in the same month, so those that are eligible for both must choose between them. FDPIR can be more convenient for community members who do not live near stores that accept SNAP or near SNAP administrative offices where they can fill out required paperwork — however, stakeholders’ goal is for eligible community members to be able to use both programs in tandem.
The Native Farm Bill Coalition has outlined their priorities for the Nutrition Title of the Farm Bill, including applying “638” authority of Self Determination and Self-Governance to all Farm Bill nutrition programs and making the FDPIR 638 project from the 2018 Farm Bill permanent to ensure maximum flexibility for Tribes by enabling them to use federal dollars to operate programs. 638 authority has been around since the 1970s but applied to limited aspects of USDA programming until the 2018 Farm Bill piloted expanding this authority to include FDPIR. This pilot has been successful, and making this procurement opportunity permanent with mandatory funding would allow more Tribal Nations to participate. For more information on the Farm Bill’s impact on and the policy priorities of Native communities, please see the Native Farm Bill Coalition’s 2022 report Gaining Ground: A Report on the 2018 Farm Bill Successes for Indian Country and Opportunities to set the stage for Native American advocacy on the upcoming Farm Bill. Minnesota’s Senator Tina Smith supports several marker bills pushing for Native Farm Bill Coalition Farm Bill priorities.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
TEFAP purchases USDA foods and makes them available at no cost to low-income Minnesotans through food banks and other community-based agencies. It also supports food storage and distribution. In Minnesota, Hunger Solutions Minnesota partners with the Minnesota Office of Economic Opportunity at the Department of Human Services to distribute TEFAP goods through Minnesota’s seven food banks, reaching food shelves, tribal nations and meal programs. For many community-based food shelves, TEFAP items are some of the only no-cost foods they can source for their community members in need, making this program critical to their operations. TEFAP products must be made available to anyone whose income is at or under 300% of the federal poverty level and can be served at meal sites with fewer restrictions than some other food access programs may have.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) & Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
Community Food Projects & Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grants
CFPcompetitive grants support nonprofits, Tribal organizations and food program service providers to increase food security in low-income communities and promote self-sufficiency through diverse community-based projects. GusNIP grantsfund a variety of projects that incentivize income-eligible consumers increasing fruit and vegetable purchases, including a recent pilot program offering “prescriptions” for fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritionally at-risk families. Minnesota has received five GusNIP grants totaling over $3 million from 2021-2023.
Expired Pandemic Nutrition Supports
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed additional nutrition benefits that were incredibly impactful. Examples of additional pandemic supports are the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which provided nutrition benefits to families who lost access to free and reduced price school meals when schools were closed, temporary 15% increases to benefits overall and boosting every household’s assistance to the maximum amount allowed for their household size with further increases to households already receiving the maximum assistance, as well as administrative flexibility waivers for college students, unemployed and underemployed adults.
When these additional supports ended in March of 2023, Minnesotans faced a “hunger cliff” that affected more than 235,000 households in Minnesota. SNAP households in Minnesota collectively lost $50 million in federal food benefits per month, and SNAP participants lost an average of $82 per month, reducing average SNAP benefits to just $6 per person per day. Though pandemic benefits have now ended, data on the positive impact they had gives power to advocates pushing to reinstate these programs and make them permanent.