Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) releases report on SNAP and nutrition

Whenever thoughtful Republicans and Democrats and non-partisan analysts get cajoled into spending significant time in a room together to focus on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) policy, they tend to come up with some common themes:

  • placing a high value both on food security and nutrition goals (not just one or the other);
  • encouraging SNAP to play a constructive role in a labor market centered strategy for poverty reduction (not just focusing on food provision alone); and
  • broadly supporting SNAP overall (not thinking of SNAP as an excessively generous welfare program).

The Bipartisan Policy Center's SNAP report this week in 2018 follows in the shoes of earlier conversations, such as the 2017 joint work of the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings, and the 2016 work of the National Commission on Hunger.

My Tufts Friedman School colleagues Norbert Wilson (as panel member) and Jerry Mande (as advisor) did great work on the BPC report, titled Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health. Another panel member was Mariana Chilton, who also had made valuable contributions to the earlier National Commission on Hunger.

Most readers likely will focus on the BPC's recommendation to limit sugar sweetened beverages. But it also is good to notice the broad bipartisan support for SNAP, which contrasts with current winds from the administration:
Task force members shared an appreciation for the importance of SNAP in reducing food insecurity and poverty among low-income Americans. The program plays a positive role in supporting families and communities across the country; thus, it is our strong view that any changes to increase SNAP’s focus on nutrition and healthier food choices must be undertaken in ways that strengthen the program and make it more effective. Given that existing SNAP benefits are relatively meager (less than $1.39 per person per meal), we strongly oppose any changes that would reduce the value of SNAP benefits or make them more difficult for qualified individuals to access.
You may think such reports bland, but I think quite well of them. I would be happy to trade our current political environment for the more sedate political world these commissions inhabit. The BPC could not have anticipated -- and certainly did not directly comment on -- the administration's entirely distinct budget proposal, including harsh SNAP cuts and a Harvest Box proposal, which may be more central to the national SNAP policy argument this year.