If you haven’t already, you really should read this week’s post from our resident food systems and health expert Sarah Reinhardt. In it, Sarah breaks down everything that’s wrong with agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue’s latest regulatory attack on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Or rather, nearly everything that’s wrong with it. Because in addition to the dishonesty, denialism, and downright cruelty (I know, it’s the point) that oozes from a rule change that, if enacted, would take food off the plates of $3.1 million low-income people, there’s something else.
Secretary Perdue’s proposed SNAP cuts would hurt the very people he calls his “customers”: farmers and rural communities.
As we head into National Farmers Market Week, an annual celebration of local food, let’s look at the impact of SNAP cuts on farmers who are bringing the rest of us a bounty of summer peaches, tomatoes, corn, and green beans right now.
Many of those farmers have a larger customer base and higher sales than they otherwise would because there are now (according to USDA data updated in July) 3,441 SNAP-authorized farmers markets operating nationwide. Farmers at those markets can sell their fresh produce, meats, and dairy products to people at all income levels because of the program. And SNAP redemptions at farmers markets has been rising, up 35 percent between 2012 and 2017. Community-based programs that double SNAP dollars, also on the rise, mean even more sales for farmers.
But markets won’t be able to double the benefits of SNAP recipients who are kicked out of the program as a result of Perdue’s short-sighted and punitive eligibility change. And while his proposed rule provides an estimate of the losses to small retailers ($183 loss of revenue per small authorized retailer on average per month), there’s no consideration for how this rule would affect farmers market vendors specifically. Surely though, some slice of such farmers’ incomes would simply disappear.
And there’s more. As Salon reported during the SNAP fight that nearly hijacked the 2018 farm bill, some small farmers use SNAP to supplement their own families’ food budgets. Some of them will likely lose their benefits as well.
Finally, as the Union of Concerned Scientists has shown, many households in low-wage, low-prosperity rural counties turn to SNAP to augment their food budgets—in fact, they do so at higher rates than their urban counterparts. We found that 136 of the 150 counties with the highest percentages of SNAP participation by household are located in rural areas. And SNAP dollars spent at rural grocery stores help boost struggling economies.
For National Farmers Market Week, how about actually helping farmers?
Any minute now, I expect to see a cheerful press release from Secretary Perdue praising farmers markets and the farmers who supply them. Don’t get me wrong, he should acknowledge those farmers. We should all raise a glass to them during this celebratory week. (Grilled watermelon margarita, anyone?)
But Secretary Perdue’s USDA really should do more to ensure their success, instead of shortsightedly shrinking their customer base and leaving their neighbors hungry.
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