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The 2014 Farm Bill – The Good and the Bad

The Farm Bill has been in the news quite a bit over the past two weeks since it was finally moving after a very long stalemate.  On January 29th, the US House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill in a bipartisan vote of 251-166 and the US Senate followed last week by passing the bill in a bipartisan vote of 68-32. Last Friday, February 7th, President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law.  This law has a major impact on food policy in America, so we wanted to take a minute to explain what the Farm Bill is, and what was in the 2014 version that passed.
What is the Farm Bill and what is SNAP?
The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (aka Farm Bill) is a major piece of comprehensive legislation – what we call an omnibus bill – that is the main driver of agricultural and food policy in the country.  There are hundreds of programs that fall under the farm bill, including food and nutrition programs and farm subsidies. The Farm Bill is reauthorized by Congress about every five years.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP (food stamps) is the largest food and nutrition programs funded through the Farm Bill.  It currently serves more than 46 Million low-income Americans each year. One in seven people in the United States receive SNAP benefits, and many of those are working adults.  These families have to make impossible choices every day between buying medication, putting food on the table, or heating their house.  SNAP provides some financial relief to these families by providing assistance to buy food for their household.  SNAP has helped lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

2014 Farm Bill
The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and negotiations around passing a new Farm Bill have been stalled for a couple of years.  There has been a stalemate between the House and Senate in part over the proposed cuts to food programs.  The House had proposed almost $40 billion in cuts over 10 years while the Senate had proposed $4.1 billion in cuts over 10 years.  Click here to learn more about what the proposed cuts were in each original proposal.
But last week, Congress came to an agreement on the Farm Bill and it has quickly moved through both the House and Senate, thus ending the stalemate. We wanted to take a minute to explain how the bill, as passed by both the House and Senate, impacts hunger in America – both the good and the bad.

The good:
•    $205 million in increased funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) program, which provides food to food banks
•    $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which works to increase access to healthy, affordable food in communities that currently lack these options
•    $200 million for a pilot project to train SNAP recipients for jobs

The bad:
•    SNAP is cut by $8.6 billion over 10 years by raising the amount for ‘Heat and Eat’ eligibility. This will result in 232,000 Washington households will experience a drop in benefits (up to $90 per month).

The good pieces are definitely something to be happy about.  Additional support for TEFAP will help people who access emergency food through food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens.  And our own Representative Suzan DelBene, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, worked hard to expand the pilots we have done in Washington for positive employment and training strategies like those utilized by the Seattle Jobs Initiative.  These are all positive things that will help fight hunger in our country.

But the damage done by the cuts to SNAP outweighs the positive steps made.  The goal of SNAP is to increase food security and access to a healthy diet for low-income households.  Such a dramatic reduction in benefits will work against these goals and more families will experience food insecurity.

Don’t Forget to Look on the Bright Side
While it is terrible to see the cuts to the SNAP program, it is also important to recognize that it could have been worse.  The cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill harm the most vulnerable members of our communities.  The Institute of Medicine released a report last year showing that SNAP benefits already don’t provide enough for families to purchase a healthy diet throughout the month.  These cuts will put families in an even worse situation.

However, families would have experienced even more hardship if the original House proposal would have passed with almost $40 billion in cuts. These proposed cuts included restricting Categorical Eligibility, which would have forced Washington to restore the asset and vehicle limits and drop gross income eligibility back to 130% of the federal poverty level. In addition, there was no elimination of waivers for the Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, or “ABAWDs”

What can you do?
The Farm Bill has been signed by the President so unfortunately the cuts to SNAP will be happening.  So unfortunately, it looks like the bill will pass as-is and the cuts to SNAP will be happening. But, when one door closes, we look at what windows we might be able to open.
The first thing to remember is that the Farm Bill is reauthorized about every five years.  So, we will be back and ready to talk about SNAP and other food and nutrition programs when the Farm Bill comes up again.

In addition, the Washington State legislature is still in session and will soon begin discussion the potential supplemental budget.  There are several state-funded programs that help low-income families who are experiencing food insecurity.

State Food Assistance Program (SFA)
Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP)
Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP)

You can learn about these programs by clicking on the links above, and then talk to your state legislators about the importance of funding them.

Tags: Farm Bill   SNAP   

2014 Legislative Session Week Two – Innovation in our Health Care System

The Affordable Care Act has brought about unprecedented change, especially in the area of access to health care. As of January 9th, over 270,000 Washingtonians have newly enrolled in either private health insurance or Apple Health (Medicaid) through the Washington Healthplanfinder.   These newly enrolled won’t just have an insurance card to throw in their wallet – they now have the peace of mind knowing that they are covered.

But as the saying goes, this is not the end.  This is not the beginning of the end.  This is the end of the beginning.

There is so much more that we can and must do to improve the health of our families.  One of the next major steps to create some wide level change in our health care systems.  The current system is segmented, doesn’t utilize effective payment and delivery models, and doesn’t focus on prevention first.

It is with this in mind that Washington State applied for, and was awarded, a State Innovation Model grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).  With this grant, health care leaders from across Washington state came together to create the State Health Care Innovation Plan. 

This plan has the three main goals of better health, better care, and lower costs for Washingtonians. To achieve this, our State will take on the different strategies of value-based purchasing, building healthy communities and people through prevention early mitigation, and better integration of health care and social supports, especially in the area of integrating physical and behavioral health needs.

These goals are shared by WithinReach and our staff has a lot of experience working with families who have seen the best and the worst of our current health care system.  By transforming the system to better meet health care needs in an effective and more affordable way, we can help Washington families have better health outcomes.

Last week, legislation was introduced into the State House of Representatives to develop and implement the five-year State Health Care Innovation Plan.  Getting this bill (House Bill 2572) passed is a necessary and important step toward getting this plan in motion.  You can follow the progress of this bill by checking in here.  It has already been scheduled for a hearing on January 27th in the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness, which you can watch on TVW.

It is an exciting time in the health care world!  Through the great ideas and strategies in the State Health Care Innovation Plan, our state can begin to transform the system and create better, healthier lives for our friends, families, and communities.

Tags: Affordable Care Act   Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation   State Health Care Innovation Plan   Washington Apple Health   

WithinReach 2014 Legislative Priorities

At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities.  Driven by the goal of breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives, WithinReach strives to work with coalitions and partner organizations to advocate for, educate about, and support key issues that relate to our five key focus areas: breastfeeding, health care access, child development, immunizations, and food access.
When you look at the WithinReach Theory of Change, you see that we look to impact these five key areas through engaging with community partners, families, and influencers.  It is the influencers where we have some of the greatest potential to make widespread change throughout Washington State.  There is incredible opportunity to pass laws and fund programs that are critical to healthy families.
For 25 years, we have worked to identify and resolve the most pressing concerns facing vulnerable children and families.  It is this extensive experience that makes us experts on what families need to be healthy.  We are a trusted resource not only directly for those families, but also for the decision makers who decide which laws to pass and what programs to fund.  It is because of our deep knowledge that it is important that we work with decision makers to influence public policies and elevate the issues that matter most to Washington families.
With this in mind, the WithinReach 2014 legislative priorities are as follows:
Apple Health for Kids Hotline
Apple Health for Kids streamlines applications for children’s free or low-cost health insurance.  The Hotline for Apple Health for Kids is a vital tool for families that provides the assistance they need when applying for coverage for their children. We support ongoing funding for the Apple Health for Kids Hotline.
Breastfeeding-Friendly Washington
Breastfeeding is an important predictor of the health of both a mom and her baby, including reducing the risk of diseases such as leukemia and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While nine out of ten babies in Washington begin life breastfeeding, just 20% of babies are fed only breast milk for the recommended six months.  We advocate for Breastfeeding-Friendly Washington designations that encourage and recognize hospitals, health care providers, workplaces, and child care centers who take steps to support breastfeeding.
Affordable Care Act Apple Health Outreach
The Affordable Care Act has already resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of insured people in Washington.  However, there remains a large population of people who are not aware of the new coverage options available.  Additionally, there is a large knowledge gap around the new renewal process for existing Medicaid, which has resulted in many families being at risk for dropped coverage.  We support funding for an outreach campaign for individuals and families about the new coverage options available and the new process for Medicaid renewals.
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