A hearing Tuesday before a Senate agriculture subcommittee illustrated a bipartisan priority to incorporate the concept of “food as medicine” into the upcoming farm bill.
Witnesses who testified at the hearing said that programs that recognize the role nutrition can play in medical treatment and prevention can transform the health of individuals and families receiving food and reduce health care costs. health..
Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., who chairs the subcommittee on food and nutrition, specialty crops, organics and research, said nearly $1 of every $3 in the federal budget now goes to health care spending, so Encouraging healthier foods will be a top priority for him in the 2023 Farm Bill.
“Our dietary guidelines tell us that 50% of the food we should eat should be fruits and vegetables, but less than 10% of our farm subsidies currently go there,” Booker noted.
The latest farm bill increased five-year annual funding from $45 million to $56 million for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) and its competitive grant programs that develop and evaluate projects aimed at increasing the purchase of fruit and vegetables. GusNIP grants provide point-of-purchase incentives among income-eligible consumers who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The The GusNIP product prescription program also examines improved dietary health through increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and the impact on reducing food insecurity and reducing health care and drug use. costs associated with it.
Leah Penniman, founding co-executive director of Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, New York, said in speaking with farmers who participate in the GusNIP program, it supports many black and other minority farmers and helps keep small businesses afloat. and medium-sized regional farms. . Penniman also cited a recent National Young Farmers Coalition survey that found 83% of young farmers are motivated by social concerns – such as ending hunger – as one of the main reasons they want to farm.
“There is a huge opportunity to connect these federal programs with these promising young farmers who are socially motivated and want to make a difference in their communities,” she said. “People need to be in communities that have a culture of health, and these farmers are in a community with people who need that food and are willing to engage that way.”
The Kentucky-based Community Farm Alliance launched Kentucky Double Dollars in 2014 to encourage doubling of SNAP funds for healthy food purchases not only for Kentucky-grown fruits and vegetables, but also for meat, eggs and dairy products. In 2019, they launched Fresh RX for Mothers on Medicaid, which helps expectant mothers on Medicaid eat more locally grown fruits and vegetables through a weekly prescription of produce.
Martin Richards, CEO of CFA, said the USDA’s GusNip grant program has been critical to the Alliance. However, with only $38.7 million available this year, only eight GusNIP projects were funded, and Kentucky was not on the list. He encouraged lawmakers to use the upcoming farm bill to expand the GusNip program and reduce matching funding requirements.
Building on the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health held in September, a key part of a national strategy rolled out at the event is a call for continued research and l scaling up food-as-medicine programs, such as funding pilot programs to integrate medically-appropriate meals and nutritional counseling into Medicare and Medicaid programs. During Tuesday’s hearing, Booker also suggested that Congress create a new USDA Specialty Crop Food Box program to provide locally sourced fruits and vegetables to Medicaid participants.
Committee Member and Physician Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Recently Said Agri Pulse According to the journalists, the concept of food as medicine has “unlimited potential”. During the hearing, he shared a 2019 study detailing how medically-adjusted meal programs reduced readmission rates for Medicare beneficiaries. Marshall says he plans to introduce a bill with Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to implement a larger-scale pilot program to assess cost savings and benefits for the health of Medicare beneficiaries who are sent home after a hospital stay with medically appropriate meals. .
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