USDA Supports Equity, Inclusion in Nutrition Assistance Programs
Food and Nutrition Service Highlights from the First Year of the Biden Administration
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2022 – USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is committed to promoting equity and inclusion through its federal nutrition assistance programs and today, is celebrating advancements made over the past year while acknowledging the long journey ahead. Throughout the past year, the Biden-Harris Administration and USDA have worked side-by-side to provide those in need with better, fairer access to a healthy diet, with a focus on closing gaps in access for historically disadvantaged and underserved populations.
“USDA and the Biden-Harris Administration have placed equity and racial justice at the center of our agenda in all areas, including the federal nutrition assistance programs,” said Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. “We know we have a long way to go, but we are committed to putting in the work necessary to move the needle.”
FNS Administrator Cindy Long also noted that health challenges related to food and nutrition insecurity disproportionately affect communities of color, households with children, and other vulnerable populations.
“At times during the pandemic, Black, Latino and Indigenous adults have been two to three times more likely to report not having enough to eat, and the numbers are even worse among families with children, said Long. “FNS is committed to operating our programs in a way that begins to break down the systemic barriers that have long hindered these communities from obtaining the food assistance they need and deserve.”
Highlights of FNS efforts to advance racial justice and equity since January 2021 include:
Advancing WIC to Better Serve Participants
The Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is one of the most powerful public health interventions available to reduce stark racial disparities in maternal and child health, while offering today's youngest Americans a head start for a brighter tomorrow. FNS is using $390 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to make sweeping improvements to WIC and the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program to better serve women and children at nutritional risk. FNS is piloting online ordering; expanding electronic benefit delivery, which is replacing paper-based vouchers; and using innovative outreach efforts to reduce disparities in program access, participation and benefit delivery.
Increasing SNAP Benefits, Equity in Program Access
SNAP – the largest federal food assistance program – is one of the most effective tools for helping low-income households access healthy food. SNAP benefits are especially critical for historically marginalized communities and households with children, which are more likely to face hunger. Over the past year, USDA strengthened SNAP and addressed rising food insecurity from the pandemic and other factors through several actions, including:
- Increasing maximum SNAP benefit amounts by 21% through the re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, used to set SNAP benefit levels. The value of the plan had not previously changed since 1975. Households are now better able to afford healthy food, including foods that meet their special dietary needs and cultural preferences.
- Supporting SNAP online shopping, making it easier for households to purchase groceries. In particular, SNAP participants with disabilities who face transportation barriers or have other challenges obtaining healthy foods now have expanded access to the shopping conveniences all people deserve in a 21st century economy.
- Temporarily extending SNAP to certain struggling college students who would otherwise be ineligible to receive benefits. Now, these students have fewer concerns about food assistance as they work towards their degree amid the uncertainties of the pandemic.
- Awarding $5 million in SNAP improvement grants for which recipients must analyze their project's impact on racial equity and inclusion.
- Ensuring SNAP access for eligible immigrants in need by helping states educate residents – especially in communities with large immigrant populations – that receiving SNAP benefits will not impact their permanent resident status.
Strengthening America's Emergency Food System
The pandemic has had devastating impacts on our nation's food systems and economy, highlighting the importance of a resilient and responsive emergency food network. Millions of Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, have been forced to depend on food banks, food pantries and other local organizations for assistance. In response, USDA has provided significant resources to the emergency food system. FNS is currently accepting applications for a first round of TEFAP Reach and Resiliency Grants, which will provide up to $100 million – funded by the American Rescue Plan Act – to improve infrastructure to better reach remote, rural, tribal, low-income and other underserved populations.
Improving Nutrition Assistance, Sovereignty for Tribal Communities
During the Biden-Harris Administration, FNS maintained strong partnerships with tribal nations by convening four consultations on a wide variety of topics pertaining to the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), WIC and SNAP to ensure those food assistance programs continue to serve their populations well. In addition, FNS awarded $3.5 million to eight tribal nations for a project that, for the first time, offers tribes more sovereignty in operating FDPIR in a way that meets their localized needs. The FDPIR Self-Determination Demonstration Project empowers these tribal nations by giving them more options in selecting and purchasing foods for their program that align with their cultural and traditional preferences. Implementation began in October 2021 with some contracts expected to last up to three years.
Expanding Culturally-Appropriate Meal Options for Kids
FNS awarded nearly $5.5 million in Team Nutrition Grants to help 21 states use local foods in their school meals to develop recipes that reflect cultural and regional food preferences. The agency also continues to expand its Spanish language nutrition education and training resources for schools, child care sites and families.
Promoting Fairer Access to Food Assistance in American Territories
To help support nutrition assistance for families hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA provided $2.5 billion to Puerto Rico, $30 million to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and more than $10 million to American Samoa, which allowed the territories to boost monthly food benefits for eligible families. Nutrition assistance for these territories is funded through a block grant. This added financial support ensures that all people in American territories – regardless of race, ethnicity, or background – have better access to healthy food.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service leverages its 15 nutrition assistance programs to ensure that children, low-income individuals, and families have opportunities for a better future through equitable access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food, while building a more resilient food system. Under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vilsack, FNS is fighting to end food and nutrition insecurity for all through programs such as SNAP, school meals, and WIC. FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To learn more, visit www.fns.usda.gov and follow us on Twitter @USDANutrition.
- Release: Secretary Tom Vilsack Highlights Key Work in 2021 to Advance Equity
- Blog: Advancing Racial Justice through Food Distributions on Indian Reservations
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