We know that hunger in America can only be solved through comprehensive legislative change, which is why the 2023 Farm Bill cycle is a very important time for action. The Farm Bill is a massive package of legislation passed every five years that, among other agricultural policies, includes the reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal nutrition programs. MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and our partners are starting our work now to make the changes people across the country need and deserve to see in next year’s Farm Bill. Detailed below are the big legislative priorities that MAZON is dedicated to championing forward.
For more than a decade, MAZON has led the national fight to end military hunger and, in 2021, we made substantial progress with the successful inclusion of the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance), a provision that MAZON helped to craft and champion, in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Basic Needs Allowance provides financial relief to military families experiencing poverty who are excluded from receiving federal food assistance through SNAP; because their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is counted as income for SNAP eligibility, thousands of struggling military families are unable to access critical assistance. Unfortunately, the version of the Basic Needs Allowance included in the final NDAA fell short of providing the full relief needed to support all struggling military families, so work remains to be done to end military hunger.
With negotiations for the 2023 Farm Bill beginning in earnest this year, MAZON will once again lead the effort to fix the anomaly in SNAP statute that prevents low-income military families from qualifying for needed assistance. Federal housing subsidies are not counted as income for civilians, and the BAH is neither taxed as income nor considered as income to qualify for other federal assistance programs, making it that much more unconscionable that military families face a barrier to receiving the nutrition assistance they need. The upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization provides another bite at the legislative apple to fix this oversight once and for all. We look forward to working with our partner organizations and Congressional champions to include language in the Farm Bill to clearly exclude the BAH as income for the purposes of military families qualifying for SNAP.
Last fall, MAZON’s Vice President of Programs, Mia Hubbard, and longtime friend of MAZON, Tim Keefe, delivered powerful testimony before the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations on the critical issue of hunger among our nation’s veterans. Recent research on the issue highlights the correlation between increased food insecurity and higher rates of suicide among veterans.
MAZON is focused on uplifting and advocating for legislation and programmatic solutions to close the veteran SNAP participation gap, including adjusting SNAP’s consideration of VA disability ratings, supporting veteran SNAP outreach initiatives, and exempting veterans from work requirements for the purposes of qualifying for SNAP.
National data estimates that 80% of single parents in the U.S. are women, and 40% of these single mothers are experiencing food insecurity. Broadly, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the hunger crisis in America, and single mothers are no exception. Rising food prices, the cost of childcare, and state restrictions have all posed disproportionate economic setbacks for single mothers that create additional barriers to accessing food.
MAZON is focused on preventing any additional hurdles to SNAP eligibility criteria for single mothers and lifting legislation that properly addresses the childcare cost component. With many districts still operating under a hybrid model of in person and virtual learning, many single mothers are forced to decide between working and caring for children. For some single mothers, the cost of childcare outweighs the gross pay they earn, making it difficult, if not impossible, to continue working while their children learn from home.
Indigenous peoples have their own innovations and solutions to address food insecurity, and MAZON’s work regarding food security in Indian Country during the upcoming Farm Bill cycle will be led by the voices of Tribal advocates. Tribal sovereignty over administering food nutrition programs, reclaiming food systems, and protecting food traditions will all be important areas of focus.
Puerto Rico has long struggled with economic hardship and systemic poverty as a result of outdated policies and a lack of political will in Washington. This, alongside a series of catastrophic natural disasters in recent years, has left many people living in Puerto Rico grappling with hunger.
Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the U.S. isolates it from receiving proper federal food assistance through SNAP; instead Puerto Rico administers a territory specific Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). The most devastating distinction between the two programs is that while SNAP is an automatic stabilizer program that adjusts according to the need without affecting individual benefits, NAP is a block grant with a set amount of money — individual benefits are often reduced when the number of people receiving benefits increases, and benefits may end if funding runs out.
This difference in program administration exacerbated food insecurity for Puerto Ricans during the pandemic; while SNAP prevented millions of mainland Americans from falling into severe hunger, NAP was unable to provide the same safety net. MAZON’s partner, The Youth Development Institute (Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud) estimates that the rate of youth poverty is 58%, which is double that of the mainland’s worst rate in any single state. Further, over 60% of adults in Puerto Rico reported using nutrition benefits to help them buy food since the start of the pandemic, indicating the urgency for proper assistance.
With this urgency in mind, MAZON is leading a two-pronged approach in Puerto Rico through legislative advocacy and funding partners through our Emerging Advocacy Fund (EAF). Legislatively, we aim to gain support and build the political will to transition Puerto Rico from NAP to SNAP in the upcoming Farm Bill. While this effort will likely extend past the 2023 Farm Bill, this is a critical time to capitalize on the momentum from deliberations about benefits in the Supreme Court, increased allotment of federal COVID-19 response funds, and the recent announcement of debt restructuring for the island.
While working on the federal policy changes needed for Puerto Rico, MAZON’s EAF funding helps local partner organizations build the grassroots advocacy branch needed to push this issue forward and chart the way forward for other national organizations in the way of funding.
These are just some of the key legislative areas of focus that MAZON is prioritizing in the Farm Bill , but by no means cover the wide expanse of work being done. As Farm Bill negotiations get underway, we look forward to sharing more about our work to end hunger at this critical moment. Across the country, MAZON continues our work with partners to end hunger — read our recently published Impact Report to learn more about the work being done outside of the nation’s capital and the impact of your support in MAZON’s fight to end hunger.