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Investing in SNAP Integrity: Examining the Adequacy of SNAP Benefits

As the Federal agency responsible for carrying out the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s mission, we are constantly taking actions to improve program integrity. In 2012, we enacted tougher financial sanctions to punish those who abuse the program; sent letters to the CEOs of Ebay, Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist to engage their help in preventing the sale or purchase of SNAP benefits online; and began requiring increased documentation for high-risk stores applying to redeem SNAP benefits. Last year, the program reached a record level of payment accuracy, and fraud has been reduced to the lowest rate in the history of the program. In 2013, we expect to do even more to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used wisely.

But spending taxpayer dollars with integrity also means ensuring that the benefits provided through SNAP are actually able to do what they’re intended to do—provide healthy food to families. While the program has a strong track record of success, its size and reach underscore the importance of periodic review to ensure that the resources it provides accurately reflect the real-world circumstances in which SNAP households find themselves today; circumstances that directly affect their ability to make healthy food choices within a limited budget. Read more »

Strong Rural Communities, Stronger America

Last week, the Department hosted several members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at USDA headquarters in Washington to highlight the findings of a new report, Promoting Growth in All Regions, that says investments in rural places are vital for aggregate national economic growth and in many cases, such investments have found that rural regions have, on average, enjoyed faster growth than urban regions.

For an OECD policy brief that outlines the report’s findings visit this link.

In this time of economic challenges, the United States and other members of OECD cannot leave significant growth opportunities in rural regions untapped.   The authors of the OECD report are in  Washington this month to launch the report and urge policy makers not to overlook this reality when crafting economic policy for the country. Read more »

Small Farmers Embrace New Microloan

Every year, Dustin Schlinsog walks into the Farm Service Agency office in Neillsville, Wis., to apply for a direct operating loan to support his greenhouse operation. It’s a small loan, under $35,000. Yet, he must complete 17 pages of paperwork and meet the same requirements for farm operations applying for loans of $300,000.

Not anymore.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week the start of a new microloan program to assist beginning farmers, veterans and smaller farm operations. The program is designed to provide loans under $35,000 to help launch start-ups, provide needed resources and increased equity so farmers can graduate to commercial credit and expand their operations. Read more »

Preview of Food Price Outlook and Farm Income Sessions at 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum

USDA’s 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum, Feb. 21-22, in Arlington, Va., will host a morning of plenary session speakers on the opening day followed by 25 breakout sessions.  The “Food Price Outlook” breakout session for 2013 will offer perspectives on food price inflation, the factors contributing to food prices, and the consumer implications.

In this session, Dr. Todd Davis, Senior Economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, will discuss the link between this past year’s harvest and the prices consumers pay for food. Joining him will be USDA economist Richard Volpe explaining the relationship between food prices and inflation.  Kurt Collins, Senior Director of Commodity Risk Management for Unified Foodservice Purchasing Co-op, will explore strategies the food industry is using to manage commodity price risks. The “Farm Income” session will focus on general measures of the financial well-being of the farm economy and farm households.

To learn more about the Forum, please visit our website.