Trump would ax funding for Michigan-grown healthy eating incentives

Liberty C. Bell, of Flint, shops at the Flint Farmers’ Market. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

Programs that incentivize healthy eating among public assistance recipients have won national acclaim in recent years, but their future is clouded by federal debate about food subsidies and resistance from President Trump.

A $100 million program – championed by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan — that funds efforts like Michigan-created Double Up Food Bucks could soon end.

Called the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program (FINI), the program expires at the end of the year with the 2014 farm bill, a mammoth piece of legislation that includes everything from crop insurance to food assistance programs.

Related: Why aren’t Michiganders eating their fruits and vegetables?
Related: Flint’s recovery begins with a carrot: How a unique program is healing the city.

Double Up Food Bucks aims to help food stamp recipients stretch their dollars by purchasing mostly Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables. (Food stamps come from what’s known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.)

SNAP-related funding is a major point of contention in the debate over the farm bill’s renewal.

If President Donald Trump had his way, the FINI fund would dry up. He left the program out of the proposed budget he rolled out in February. Trump’s plan would dramatically cut SNAP benefits and replace some with a food box delivery program that has drawn bipartisan criticism.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan. (courtesy photo)

Trump’s budget is widely seen as a non-starter in Congress, but it illustrates his priorities. For years, Republicans in several states have unsuccessfully pushed the federal government to allow them restrict what can be bought with SNAP benefits.

In Michigan, state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, last year introduced a bill, since stalled, that would prohibit using SNAP to buy soft drinks.

LaFave said his idea, which would have required a waiver from the federal government, was geared at reducing fraud, alleging recipients bought pop and dumped it out to reclaim 10-cent deposits. Opponents suggested there was scant evidence of such a problem.

LaFave told Bridge he’d like to see more sweeping limits on what foods SNAP benefits could purchase, but he didn’t expect that to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, LaFave said, he supported programs like Double Up Food Bucks.

“That’s a fantastic program,” he said. “It’s not only helping encourage healthy eating practices, but it also helps local growers.”

Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of the Fair Food Network, the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that runs Double Up Food Bucks, said he believes a renewed Farm Bill will include funding for healthy eating incentives —  even if Trump’s proposal doesn’t and other Republican leaders are eyeing cuts.

“We’ve really seen that the SNAP-incentive program like FINI has continued to garner bipartisan support,” he said. “We’re optimistic that when the farm bill is finally reauthorized — and hopefully it will happen in 2018 — that it will continue to include provisions for the FINI program.”

An additional reason for optimism, he said: Jamie Clover Adams, former director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is heading to Washington to become an adviser to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

And she was a big Double Up suporter during the program’s expansion.

Clover Adams could not be reached for comment.

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Amy Kuras
Wed, 03/28/2018 - 9:22am

Really, really well-done set of stories that addresses these complex issues with sensitivity and thorough reporting. Michigan has a strong network of local food councils advocating for things like farmer's markets and FINI --I'd urge readers to find theirs and get involved!

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 9:42am

I wonder what the earbud/mike shown in the photo is connected to? A smart phone, some other device. Amazing how some politicians can distribute OPM.

If you lay off junk food, you will have money left over for healthy food.

Diane Roy
Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:54pm

Are you referring to SNAP recipients? Studies already show they are more responsible with food budget than the average person not receiving help.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 03/28/2018 - 11:19am

Question for Mr. Malewitz?

Where does the federal government derive the authority for this program?

I don't care about allegorical accounts of those who use this or ROI arguments.

I'd like to know exactly where it says that government can take from one group of citizens and literally give it to another?

mary therese lemanek
Wed, 03/28/2018 - 4:24pm

When we take from the poor to give to the well off it is viewed as positive ~ not so much when the needs of the poor are deemed unimportant. The common good is not about depriving anyone at the expense of others ~ it is working to be sure that the whole of society is strong. Cutting this program benefits nobody in the long run

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 8:01pm

Well thank you for feeling that extra taxes mean nothing to my fixed income situation. From a federal government that has to borrow almost half of what it spends, to a state government that can not remember what the gas tax it collected was for, to a local government that continually raises the property tax “only a few dollars a day”, my fixed income is going in a negative direction.
Any saving, no matter how small, is worth it.

Plus as Mr. Grand said, there is no authorization for the government to take from one person to give to another.

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 9:30pm

If government is not authorized to take from one to give to another. Where does all the money for corporate entities com from?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 04/01/2018 - 7:07am

You miss the entire point regarding charitable giving Ms. Lemanek.

There is a world of difference between someone freely giving as much as they choose, to the cause (or causes) of their choosing.

It's another thing entirely when someone takes from you to give to someone else because THEY feel that entity is more deserving and that you are totally incapable of
making the correct choice all on your own.

And to address Waterboy's comment: You are 100% correct. The government DOES NOT have the authority to give money to corporate entities, be they Amazon or Dan Gilbert.

If you would like to know why politicians do this, either look on this site or do a keyword search about political transparency laws in Lansing.

There IS a correlation between the two.