Will farmers markets be hurt if Congress cuts food stamps to pay for school lunches?

Borden - picture of Bridge Card sign at WSFM

I have received several emails on the Michigan Farmers Market listserv urging us to contact our representative in the U.S. House of Representatives not to pass the U.S. Senate bill Hunger-Free Kids Act, S. 3307. People are concerned because the bill, as it stands, pays for its $4.5 billion price tag by cutting $2.2 billion from the SNAP (food stamps) program.

The bill needs to be finalized this week before the current funding for certain school nutrition programs expires on Sept. 30. The House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, HR 5504 includes more provisions for summer meals and eligibility, but does not allocate funding for the $8 billion increase.

According to the Michigan Farmers Market Food Assistance Partnership (MIFMA), $297,000 in food stamp benefits were redeemed at Michigan farmers markets last year. MIFMA has done a lot of work supporting Michigan farmers markets to be able to accept bridge cards/food stamps this season.

All four farmers markets in Washtenaw County accept bridge cards. To date, the Westside Farmers Market has accepted nearly $1,000 in government nutrition benefits. That is $1,000 going into the hands of our local farmers and providing fresh food to our citizens versus a small step toward fighting the 30 percent obesity rate in American children by working toward healthier lunches.

Both the Senate version and the House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act will increase funding for school lunches by six cents, up to $2.44 per meal. It is also the first time there has been an increase in 30 years.

Is the six cents a meal for the children worth cutting food stamp benefits for the whole family? If I were in Congress, I would pay for the six cents by taxing the "edible food-like substances" that line the shelves of convenience stores. In fact, I would increase school lunches by as much as I could tax, because I have taught in an inner city charter school and seen the difference in the attention span of a student subsisting on marshmallows and Cheetos and one who had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. (Alternatively, we could scale back the subsidies that hide the real price of what food costs.)

As Stephen Colbert said recently, in his testimony to Congress about the plight of the migrant workers picking Americans fruits and vegetables, “The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating our fruits and vegetables.”

That is one solution, but perhaps our representatives have another one. If you care about this issue, contact your Representative.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.