The U.S. Farm Bill: What Does It Mean to Food Banks

The U.S. Farm Bill is a piece of legislation from the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA). While many think of the Farm Bill solely as the funding source for direct financial support of farmers, the Farm Bill has a much broader impact, especially on food banks. It has impacts on natural resources, the environment, and nutrition. This legislation must be reauthorized every five years, and it serves as the federal government’s main tool for supporting our nation’s food system. The twelve areas of focus of the Farm Bill are referred to as “titles,” and Title 4: Nutrition is core to the SLO Food Bank’s work.  

Title 4 is typically the largest component of Farm Bill funding, and perhaps the most significant programs funded by Title 4 are the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program).  

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP, which in generations past was sometimes referred to as “food stamps,” is rebranded as CalFresh in California. This vital nutrition benefit program, administered at the County government level throughout the State, helps almost five million California residents put food on the table. CalFresh assistance is determined and scaled according to income level and family size. As a point of reference for eligibility purposes, in 2023 the median income among households receiving CalFresh assistance is $26,085. Imagine trying to live on that in San Luis Obispo County, which is commonly referenced as one of the most expensive regions in the entire nation. To learn more about CalFresh as well as how to enroll, please visit our Funds for Food page.  

Historically, San Luis Obispo County has suffered from being one of the lowest regions of CalFresh enrolled as a percent of program eligibility. As previously mentioned, CalFresh is administered by county government in California, but, as an active organization in hunger relief and community health, SLO Food Bank is an active partner in this effort. SLO Food Bank has, for many years, leveraged grant funding to hire staff focused on increasing CalFresh awareness, education, enrollment, and participation. When our CalFresh-eligible neighbors are not enrolled in the program, many negative downstream effects become and are our shared reality, including: 

  • Exacerbation of widespread hunger 
  • Negative health effects from poor nutrition, included significant negative developmental, social, medical outcomes for children  
  • Weakening of the local economy 

To that last point, the beneficial impact of full CalFresh participation on the local economy, a few important economic realities bear highlight. First, a recent study by the USDA estimated that every dollar in new CalFresh/SNAP benefits spent when the economy is weak and unemployment elevated would increase the gross domestic product by $1.54. Furthermore, 80% of CalFresh/SNAP benefits are spent by recipients within the first two weeks of receipt, rapidly pumping money back into the local economy to benefit the entire community. When focused on our local region’s economy, a 2020 study by Nourish California finds that low CalFresh enrollment in SLO County leaves $32,500,000 of hunger relief assistance on the table and out of the pantries and tummies of our hungry neighbors. The lost social and health impacts of this stark reality are staggering. The lost economic impact is also highly significant: $50,000,000 of positive local economic activity is lost due to low enrollment in CalFresh.  

Bottom line, CalFresh is good for our local economy, not just for recipients, but for all of us.  

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides supplemental food and funds to food banks serving income-eligible residents in their county. Food provided by TEFAP is 100% American-grown, meaning United States’ food producers and food insecure clients are supported by this program. TEFAP is a significant source of food for many food banks in the United States, providing over 1.2 billion pounds of food to the Feeding America network from July 2021 to June 2022. The program provides high-quality, nutritious food: fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and whole-grain and enriched grain rice, cereals, and pastas, are just some of the many offerings available. 

TEFAP is a federal assistance program, facilitated by a different entity within each state. For California, that entity is the Department of Social Services. 49 food banks within the 58 counties of California are eligible to receive TEFAP food. The SLO Food Bank is SLO County’s only approved Eligible Recipient Agency of TEFAP support; meaning we meet the state’s requirements for inventory control, recordkeeping, and so much more. 

Programs like CalFresh and TEFAP work in tandem to address the difficult and complicated issue of hunger in our community. As the name indicates, TEFAP provides emergency food to those in immediate need of assistance. Neighbors can visit over 40 sites around our county, and receive food through a simple, low-barrier, self-certification process. This process addresses immediate needs, and once enrollment in CalFresh is complete, clients then have access to monthly benefits that allow them to choose and purchase healthy foods as they need them.