Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Eric Bost hears recommendations from New England public

Speakers from throughout New England delivered their suggestions for improving food assistance programs in person to USDA Under Secretary Eric Bost, at the Farm Bill Forum in Boston on Friday. Friedman School graduate student Kelly Horton has this report:
There were many common themes between the speakers at the forum, many of which pertained to the Food Stamp Program (FSP).

Several speakers asked that the minimum benefit be raised from $10 – some organizations suggested raising the minimum to $25 while others recommended as much as $50 for the minimum monthly benefit. One speaker suggested that benefit be calculated using the USDA moderate cost meal rather than the Thrifty Food Plan to calculate the benefits. Another speaker suggested that the benefit amount be attached to inflation.

There were many suggestions made for regarding the Food Stamp Program among them included:
  • Simplify the application process, i.e. extend the SSI combined application;
  • Advertise the option for a face-to-face interview waiver;
  • Implement mandatory elimination of face-to-face interviews;
  • Increase FSP office hours to increase accessibility and convenience;
  • Design a web-based best practices guide;
  • Enable beneficiaries to establish their EBT pin codes remotely;
  • Expand the farmer’s market FSP;
  • Increase the asset limit – some speakers suggested to set the limit at $5,000, while others suggested a $10, 000 limit;
  • Increase the housing cap;
  • Remove the work requirement;
  • Restore immigrant and permanent resident eligibility;
  • Develop a system of reciprocity between FSP and the Fuel Assistance Program;
  • Preserve categorical eligibility; and
  • Rename the program to “Eat Better Today” (based on the EBT card usage).
The food stamp program was not the only program of interest. To provide further support of making changes to the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, a representative from Mantrose-Haeuser Co., Inc., located in Westport, Conn., spoke about the value of NatureSeal. NatureSeal is a product that was developed in partnership with USDA to help preserve the freshness of sliced apples provided in schools. Several other speakers emphasized the success in providing children with sliced as opposed to whole fruit in school – that children will eat the sliced fruit but will most often discard whole apples and oranges.

Helen Mont-Ferguson, Director Food and Nutrition Services of the Boston Public Schools stated that USDA fails to realize that not all schools are the same – some schools have full kitchens while others receive foods from elsewhere. She went on to say that when fruit was cut up children will eat it but will more that likely not eat it when it is whole. She encouraged USDA to create packaging that is appealing to children, such as providing packages of dried fruits, because children will take them.

A representative from Sunkist Growers spoke on behalf of fruit producers to also encourage USDA to implement program policy changes that would help schools provide healthier meals based on the dietary guidelines, e.g. changing the school menus to reflect an increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables provided in each school meal

The USDA will continue to reviews comments submitted via its website by December 30, 2005.

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