Letter to the Hon. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and the Hon. Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader - Reps. Crawford, Kildee Lead Bipartisan Effort to Increase Access to Healthy Food During Coronavirus Pandemic
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy:
The 2018 Farm Bill expanded the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program, known now as the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), because of significant bipartisan support for the program's benefits to specialty crop farmers, food insecure families and the communities in which they reside. GusNIPincreases the purchasing power of SNAP recipients when they buy healthy fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores and farmers markets by leveraging financial incentives like discounts, coupons and loyalty rewards. We write in support of providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with $51 million in emergency COVID-19 relief funding to both decrease the required non-federal match funding and to meet surging program demand.
GusNIP is a competitive USDA grant that requires grantees to secure half their funding through state budget appropriations and philanthropic sources. Both have shrunk due to the pandemic, at a time of exponential need.
Fruit and vegetable producers across the country are facing significant financial stress as the pandemic disrupts normal channels of business, especially sales to institutional and food service buyers. Total economic losses of $1.3 billion are forecast in local and regional markets, during March through May 2020 alone.
Specific estimates are unavailable for how many of the newly unemployed are food insecure, however, there are staggering statistics that help illustrate the growing need across the country. As of May 28, and over the past ten weeks, over 40 million jobless claims have been filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, and 36 states have been approved by USDA to operate Pandemic-EBT. The latter reflects the needs of school children, whereas across the country, prior to schools closing, approximately 21 million received free and reduced-price school meals daily.
GusNIP stretches families' food budgets, incentivizes healthier options and stimulates the economy. Without an emergency increase, GusNIP grantees will be faced with exhausted funding exactly at the time they are most needed in the recovery phase of the pandemic. We urge Congress to expand USDA's match at this critically important time by providing $51 million in emergency funding into this effective nutrition incentive program.