Expanded SNAP Eligibility, Student Meal Cards Make Biden Budget

  • Biden wants pandemic-era school lunch program to be permanent
  • Asks for more for broadband, climate-agriculture initiatives

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A pandemic-era school lunch program would become permanent and food assistance would be expanded to individuals with prior drug convictions under the White House’s fiscal 2022 budget request.

President Joe Biden’s full budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture showcases several of his administration’s top priorities, including tackling the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

The president also called on lawmakers to expand broadband access, push farmers to use cleaner energy, invest in research for farming technology, and ensure more equitable farm programs.

“The President’s budget gives USDA a new set of tools to address the urgent challenges of our time—racial injustice, a changing climate, and hunger,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement, calling them “historic investments.”

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Tom Vilsack during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on July 30, 2019.

The administration proposed a nearly 17% increase in base discretionary funds to the USDA, to $27.9 billion, compared to the enacted amount in fiscal 2021.

The budget proposal, submitted later than normal this year, now kicks off spending debates in Congress to fund the government before Oct. 1.

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Expanded Nutrition Aid

Biden’s budget would expand eligibility to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program after the Trump administration had proposed tightening requirements last year.

The proposal would remove the ban on SNAP benefits for individuals with prior drug convictions, in an effort to help ease their adjustment back into civilian life.

The USDA budget proposal would also make permanent a pandemic-era school lunch program, in an effort to curb child hunger. The program would provide students who qualify for free or reduced lunch with electronic benefit transfer cards during summer break.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Reps. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) have already introduced legislation (S. 1831) with a similar goal that aims to mitigate childhood hunger.

The request sets aside $6.7 billion in funds to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC.

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Carbon Capture, Broadband

Biden’s budget would also increase funding by nearly $1.5 billion for clean energy and climate-smart agriculture initiatives, and includes a mandatory-funded program for carbon capture to address climate change.

However, Republicans have expressed concern over a potential “carbon bank” that would pay farmers to store carbon using funds from the government-owned Commodity Credit Corporation, or CCC.

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“One of the issues that’s come up is whether or not the USDA could implement a carbon bank using the CCC funds without congressional approval,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said during a hearing Thursday in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

The proposal would also set aside $700 million to help connect rural residents and tribal communities to high-speed internet, part of Biden’s larger infrastructure and economic plan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at nsadek@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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