A primer on USDA food assistance programs

With the help of my colleagues and the leadership of Maria Marshall and Kami Goodwin, the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue has a new effort to educate and provide analysis around food and farm policy issues.  We are calling it: Policy Briefs by the Purdue Agricultural Economics Department. Here's a short summary from the new website:

We are pleased to launch Policy Briefs by the Purdue Agricultural Economics Department. We aim to provide short insights, readable for the general public, on policy issues that are national in scope with an Indiana flare. We were initially motivated by the need to provide timely analysis in the lead up to 2018 Farm Bill discussions. However, the breadth of expertise in our department and the ongoing policy discussions related to farm, food, environment, trade, and development issues warrants a longer view and broader scope. The plan is to add new briefs on a monthly basis, although we may add more frequent contributions when more timely information is needed. We hope to enrich policy debates by providing data and context, quantifying impacts, and offering alternatives.

If you click on the link to the site, you'll see a couple short pieces by Roman Keeney explaining the Farm Bill and providing some background context for upcoming Farm Bill debates.  We also recently added a post by yours truly providing a short primer on USDA food assistance programs.  I provide an overview of programs like SNAP (aka "food stamps"), WIC, and school lunch, provide some history, look at the effects of SNAP, and outline some of the proposals to change SNAP.  All that in only about 1,000 words!

Here are the first two paragraphs from the piece:

Looking just at spending, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Farm Bill might be more aptly described as the U.S. Department of Food Assistance and the Food Assistance bill. In 2017, the USDA is estimated to spend about 77% of its $133 billion in outlays on food assistance programs.

USDA food assistance programs are administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), and the largest program administered by FNS is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), historically known as “food stamps.” About 70% of the FNS budget authority is allocated to SNAP. The next largest programs, representing about 21% and 6% of FNS budget authority, are Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs. The CNP primarily delivers free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches to school children. In December 2017, about 22 million school children participated in the free or reduced lunch program and about 12.6 million participated in the free or reduced breakfast program. The WIC program primarily targets women who are pregnant or who have infant children by providing coupons for infant formula, milk, cheese, and other staple foods. There were about 6.9 million WIC participants in December 2017. SNAP and CNP are entitlement programs (i.e., every person who meets eligibility criteria is allowed to participate), but WIC is a discretionary program whereby the federal government grants a specific dollar amount to be spent each year.