Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

June 29, 2013

Agriculture Forum: Double Up gives needy a leg up

Starting Monday, Kathie Maldonado will be able to stretch her food budget to include late local asparagus and the season’s sweet new strawberries, thanks to a program called Double Up Food Bucks.

The statewide, nonprofit program helps financially struggling families eat healthy while supporting business for farmers. It doubles the money that people who receive SNAP Bridge Card assistance (food stamps) have to spend with local farmers at farmers markets. That means it’s helping federal dollars governed by the Farm Bill have much more of an impact on local farm economies than, say, the grocery section at Walmart.

Last year, for example, Double Up Food Bucks and SNAP spending combined put nearly $85,000 into the local food economy at markets in Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee counties.

The Farm Bill, if the U.S. House ever can pass legislation, would help keep this good idea alive. The Senate version of the bill — which Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan was able to bring to bipartisan passage twice over the last two years — contains $20 million a year for incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks. The House version contains $5 million.

But the House kept stalling; and when it finally brought a bill up for a vote last week, the result stunned all political observers: It didn’t pass, and food stamps were one of the big reasons why. The overall cuts to food stamps in the House bill would have been nearly $20.5 billion, devastating to struggling families in a down economy. Congressional Budget Office statistics show that nearly two-thirds of the increase in the number of people receiving benefits between 2007, right before the economy crashed, and 2011, has been driven primarily by a weak economy,

And then there were three last-minute Republican amendments that would have required drug testing and added work requirements for food stamp recipients.

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