Farm bill

One of the most important regularly-presented bills in Congress is the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill, reauthorized roughly every five years by the U.S. Congress, is a massive piece of legislation that touches many aspects of American agriculture and food. It’s like a giant toolbox containing programs and policies that affect farmers, ranchers, consumers, and even the environment. The Farm Bill includes conservation programs, forestry plans, crop insurance for farmers, and much more.

It also includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is the largest program in the Farm Bill. It provides financial assistance to low-income individuals and families in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, designed to purchase food (often referred to as food stamps). Puerto Rico is not eligible for SNAP. Instead, the Island has Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), a much more limited program. NAP is funded with a capped grant, so people have a harder time qualifying for it and they receive less in benefits than if Puerto Rico had SNAP.

The Farm Bill should have been reauthorized last fall. One of the things included in the 2023 Farm Bill was a plan to transition Puerto Rico from NAP to SNAP. This would have provided more equitable funding for nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.

The Thrifty Food Plan

The current Congress has a hard time passing anything, and they have not yet been able to reauthorize the Farm Bill. Now House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson has announced that he will present a new version of the bill — one with $30 billion less in funding.

Puerto Rico’s block grant will be cut by over $700 million. That means that, rather than being brought into an equal position with the states, Puerto Rico will have even less.

That’s not the only cut that’s being proposed, of course. One of the biggest changes is that the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), the basis for the cost of food stamps funding, will be reduced. Until 2021, the TFP was supposed to change only to reflect inflation. When the TFP was developed in the 1930s, there were very few processed foods. The plan has been updated a few times over the years, but the foods in the “market basket” shopping list were not changed. The new prices were based on the cost of this basket of foods in the month of June.


So a family of four on the 2021 TFP would spend $1.39 per month for desserts, $2.23 for coffee and tea, and $3.71 for prepared foods. In the 1930s, dessert was probably home-baked goodies, with an occasional store-bought gelatin mix or candy bar, either of which could still be bought for the family for $1.39. Modern cooks may not know how to bake a cake from scratch, though. In the 1930s, the prepared foods might have been canned soups, and $3.71 will still buy a few cans of soup. This is no longer typical of modern cooking and shopping, especially in homes where both parents work or perhaps there is only one parent.

The new plan for SNAP under the farm bill would return to the “budget-neutral” system for the TFP: that is, the cost would not be allowed to increase, even though cooking and shopping have changed a great deal over the past century. In practice, this means that needy families will have a harder time making ends meet.

The new plan has “managed to find cost savings in the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP)” and this will affect everyone who relies on SNAP or NAP. Since the TFP is used to set the amounts paid to families in the form of food stamps, Puerto Rico’s funding will be affected directly.

SNAP for Puerto Rico?

Back in the fall of 2023, the Farm Bill was seen as the best way to provide equal nutritional assistance for Puerto Rico. There was resistance at the time, and Thompson has not spoken up about their idea in recent announcements.

Thompson told El Nuevo Dia, One thing that has become very clear to me is that they don’t really need Congress for the transition. I would support them with the transition.”

As a state, Puerto Rico would automatically be eligible for SNAP.



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