As the House and Senate return from August recess, one of their most critical tasks is passing the Farm Bill before the end of September. While it’s easy to focus on important commodity-related headlines about trade and farm subsidies, millions of vulnerable Americans wait to see if Congress will fund programs that will keep food on the table and help them lead healthier lives.
Debate on Capitol Hill currently centers on proposed work requirements for those who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but the Farm Bill’s provisions for SNAP are far more expansive. SNAP successfully provides nutrition assistance to millions of families across the United States who otherwise could not afford healthy foods. A USDA report for 2016 found that more than 44 million people participate in the SNAP program, with 44% of participants under the age of 18, and the vast majority of households at or below the poverty line.
Much of SNAP’s success can be found in its evidence-based nutrition education program, SNAP-Ed, which teaches practical applications beyond the traditional food benefits, such as how to be physically active or how families can prepare healthy foods. SNAP-Ed partners with local community organizations to provide targeted outreach to in-need communities. In fact, 65 percent of participants in SNAP-Ed are children 5 to 17 years old, which reaches one of SNAP’s largest participant groups.
Cooperative Extension, a nation-wide educational and outreach network that translates research from land-grant universities into community-customized solutions in agriculture, community and youth development, and health and human sciences currently manages $180 million in SNAP-Ed programs across the United States. In 2015 alone, 2.5 million Americans received SNAP-Ed benefits through Cooperative Extension programming.
While many have the perception that SNAP is an ineffective program, Cooperative Extension SNAP-Ed programs currently have a 74 percent success rate. That is more than 1.8 million individuals learn how to be more food secure, create and adjust food budgets, and choose healthier options like fruits and vegetables.
The benefits of SNAP and SNAP-Ed are clear. Supporting these programs will have real-world impacts on the millions of children and families who benefit from them every day. Congress must support SNAP and SNAP-Ed, and pass the Farm Bill before current legislation expires at the end of September. Millions of Americans are counting on their representatives to do their job.
About the authors: Rick Klemme is the Executive Director for Extension Committee on Organization and Policy and a former Cooperative Extension Director at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. He is responsible for coordinating the collaborative work of 76 Cooperative Extension Directors and Administrators at Land-Grant Universities across the country. Dr. Fred Schlutt is Vice Provost for Extension and Outreach and Director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.