Needing $110 Million, Congress Ignored Bipartisan Farm Program Reforms and Cut Nutrition Education Instead

January 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

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.

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More About Stacy Dean

Stacy Dean

As Vice President for Food Assistance Policy, Dean works extensively with program administrators, policymakers, and non-profit organizations to improve the food stamp program and provide eligible low-income families easier access to its benefits.

Full bio | Blog Archive | Research archive at

4 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. Sally Schulte #

    I teach nutrition education to children in Southern Oregon. In our county, 100% of our elementary schools have over 60% of the children qualify for Free and Reduced meals, most have much more. During a 5 week session in the Fall of 2012, I taught over 350 kids how to read food labels, increasing whole grains and fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, and how to decrease added sugars and salts. I also teach in Head Start Programs, Boys & Girls Clubs, and give healthy option demos in our food pantries (9 in our county). This I do in under 20 hours a week. My future work is very uncertain now due to the SNAP-Ed cuts our state will be forced to make. This nutrition education is critical to our future generation to prevent food related health issues. It is extremely disappointing that the relatively small budget that the SNAP-Ed receives will be cut.

  2. Michael Melius #

    To answer Jim Nichols’ question about what subsidies to cut, certainly direct payments should go. These are for corn, wheat, soy, and other crops. It’s cash deposited directly into participating farmers’ bank accounts. It may have been justifiable 10+ years ago when crop prices were low year after year and farmers needed the incentive to plant more as well as the safety net provided by the subsidies. But now thanks to population growth, demand for animal feed, and demand for “biofuels”, crop prices are high, they’ve been high for several years, and farmer’s have no problem planting ever-more acres to cropland. It’s having a huge impact on natural landscapes around the world, such grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands in the U.S. being converted to cropland. Ranchers are finding it hard to compete with farmers for land, when land is so much more profitable for farming than grazing. And peasant farmers and indigenous people around the world are being driven from their lands, again for large-scale industrial style agriculture.

  3. J.W. Smith #

    Jim: in 2006 the Washington Post published a year long investigation into the wasteful farm subsidies – called it Harvesting Cash.

    “In the past five years alone, the U.S. government has handed out more than $95 billion in agricultural subsidies. Post reporters criss-crossed the country in 2006, identifying more than $15 billion in wasteful, unnecessary and redundant spending.”

  4. 4

    What are some of the farm subsidies on the books that could have been cut instead?

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