When, in the new budget deal, Congress needed $110 million to extend current dairy programs, lawmakers looked not to savings from bipartisan reforms to farm subsidies that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees had crafted as part of their pending farm bill proposals. Instead, Congress cut a nutrition education program that promotes healthy eating habits and physically active lifestyles for people of limited means.
This cut will reduce funding in 2013 for the nutrition education program, which is part of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), by over 25 percent — from $394 million to $285 million. The $110 million in savings will pay to extend current dairy programs through the end of fiscal year 2013.
The agriculture committees included an extension and reforms of dairy programs in their farm bill proposals and used savings from dairy and other farmer subsidy programs to finance these changes as well as to generate overall savings. Instead of using this approach, budget negotiators reached instead for a nutrition program cut here.
While each state implements its own nutrition education program, they must use evidence-based approaches to promote a physically active lifestyle and healthy eating habits for individuals with limited budgets. The cuts to SNAP’s nutrition education and obesity prevention program will reduce the program’s reach and effectiveness.
The Agriculture Department has already allocated almost $200 million in state nutrition education grants for the first half of fiscal year 2013. To absorb the $110 million cut, states will likely have to slash their programs deeply for the second half of the year. That will compromise states’ ability to promote good health and nutrition to program participants.
Given the levels of obesity and nutrition-related health problems in America — and given the ready-made assortment of farm program reforms that the Agriculture Committees have crafted — Congress chose an unfortunate and misguided way to cover the costs of extending the dairy programs.