With the 2018 Farm Bill expiration date creeping closer, Tribal leadership and advocates have been meeting with elected officials to express their priorities on how to improve the 2023 Farm Bill. The Native Farm Bill Coalition (NFBC) members' Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) priorities boil down to three concise requests: Tribal eligibility to administer SNAP, self-determination and self-governance authority for SNAP, and dual use of SNAP and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
The biggest dog in the fight for food assistance is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Encompassing up to 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s total spending, SNAP is notoriously a hot topic among lawmakers in Washington D.C. and is often a target for those eyeing government spending cuts.
More than 41 million low-income people in the U.S. benefit from the program, and 25% of all Native people in the U.S. rely on SNAP each month (Gaining Ground link). Although Native participation in SNAP is high, Tribes cannot self-administer the program and must partner with state agencies. To increase efficiencies and provide greater local control, one of the Native Farm Bill Coalition’s priorities includes establishing Tribal self-determination and self-governance opportunities for the program.
The House of Representatives GOP majority has vowed to curb excess government spending . However, the House Agriculture Committee Chair G.T. Thompson (R-PA.) is pushing for a bipartisan effort to begin the Farm Bill process, and has cited his personal history with nutrition assistance programs.
Chairman Thompson’s plan is to empower the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) to provide people who benefit from SNAP to receive the necessary education about leading healthy, active lives.
According to the USDA, SNAP-Ed projects encompass nutrition education, social marketing, policy, systems, and environmental change. The goal of SNAP-Ed is to gradually transition recipients off food assistance programs and recover old ways of food sourcing. Tribal Nations cannot directly access SNAP-Ed funds. Although states, who administer SNAP, are legally required to consult with Tribal Nations in their service areas, this does not always happen. As a result, Tribal citizens are left out of valuable nutrition education opportunities. Tribal Nations are better situated to provide culturally appropriate nutrition education programming to their citizens and should receive direct access to these funds.
FDPIR provides USDA Foods to income-eligible households living on Indian reservations and to American Indian households residing in approved areas near reservations or in Oklahoma (USDA), and is billed as an alternative to SNAP. There are currently an estimated 276 tribes — out of the 574 federally recognized —that receive benefits under FDPIR. In the fiscal year 2020, the program served 75,000 Native American adults and children each month.
The FDPIR Self-Determination Demonstration Project included in the 2018 Farm Bill is the first USDA food program to explore Tribal self-determination. This project has been wildly successful; however, limited funding constrained the number of Tribes able to participate, and uncertainty around the program’s longevity creates additional challenges. One of the NFBC’s top priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill includes establishing a permanent FDPIR Self-Determination program.
Power in choice
Many Tribal households utilize FDPIR services rather than SNAP because they do not have easy or reliable access to SNAP offices or authorized retail food stores (USDA).
Given the changes to SNAP funds and varied offerings, many Tribal citizens may want the option to choose what program is best for them that month, whether it’s SNAP or FDPIR. By removing the statutory prohibition of dual use of SNAP and FDPIR, food access and opportunities would improve significantly for Tribal citizens to feed their families.
In these constantly changing times, Food Assistance Programs are more vital than ever before. The Native Farm Bill Coalition will continue to fight for Indian country’s three core appeals: Tribal eligibility to administer the SNAP, self-determination and self-governance authority for SNAP, and dual use of SNAP and FDPIR.
Visit the links below to learn more about the Native Farm Bill Coalition’s priorities surrounding food assistance programs.