Spending on food programs increases 11% in fiscal 2008

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — Federal expenditures on domestic food assistance programs in fiscal 2008 totaled $60.7 billion, up 11% from $54.5 billion the previous year, said Victor Oliveira, an agricultural economist with the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The percentage increase was the largest in 16 years, and fiscal year 2008 was the eighth consecutive year in which federal food assistance expenditures set new record high levels, Mr. Oliveira said in "The Food Assistance Landscape, F.Y. 2008 Annual Report."

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Act (SNAP) accounted for 62% of all federal food assistance spending in fiscal 2008. During the fiscal year, the federal government spent a record $37.5 billion on SNAP, 13% more than the previous record-high level of $33.2 billion spent in fiscal 2007.

Program participation rose in 11 of 12 months during fiscal 2008. In September 2008, the last month of fiscal 2008, 31.6 million people received SNAP benefits, the largest number of people to ever participate in the program. "This increase was due to the weak economy as well as the impact of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana," Mr. Oliveira said.

Federal spending on W.I.C. during fiscal 2008 totaled $6.2 billion, 15% more than $5.4 billion expended in fiscal 2007. The W.I.C. program was the fastest-growing food assistance program during the year. An average of 8.7 million people per month participated in the program, up 5% from 8.3 million per month during the previous fiscal year. The number of children receiving benefits under the program rose 7% while the number of women and infants each increased by about 3%. Almost half the participants were children ages one to four, 26% were infants and 25% were women.

The National School Lunch Program provides nutritious, low-price or free lunches to schoolchildren. Federal spending on the school lunch program in fiscal 2008 totaled $9.3 billion, up 6% from $8.7 billion during the previous fiscal year.

The number of lunches served under the program was estimated at 5.2 billion, an increase of almost 3% from fiscal 2007. The average daily participation in the school lunch program in fiscal 2008 was 30.9 million children, up 1% from 30.5 million in fiscal 2007.

The School Breakfast Program provides children of low-income families free or reduced-price breakfasts at school. Federal spending on the breakfast program during fiscal 2008 was $2.4 billion, up 9% from $2.2 billion in the previous year. An average of 10.6 million children participated in the program each school day, 3% more than in 2007. A total of 1.8 billion breakfasts were served under the program in fiscal 2008, 5% more than in fiscal 2007.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program subsidizes healthful meals and snacks in participating childcare centers and homes and adult daycare facilities. Federal expenditures on the program totaled $2.4 billion in fiscal 2008, up 7% from $2.2 billion during the previous year. A total of 1.9 billion meals were served under the program, about 3% more than in 2007. The number of meals served increased 5% in adult daycare centers and 4% in childcare centers. The number of meals served in family childcare homes remained about the same as in fiscal 2007.

Federal expenditures on domestic food assistance programs were expected to increase sharply in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 because of the government response to the unfolding economic crisis.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that was signed into law in February increased monthly SNAP benefits for participants by 13.6% beginning April 1. W.I.C. received $500 million in additional funding for fiscal 2009 to accommodate 9.1 million participants compared with 8.7 million beneficiaries in fiscal 2008.

President Obama on Feb. 26 provided an outline for his proposed fiscal 2010 budget that would provide a $1 billion increase for child nutrition programs. The president also proposed funding W.I.C. at a level that would accommodate more than 9.8 million participants. Details of the president’s budget proposal were expected soon.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, April 28, 2009, starting on Page 28. Click here to search that archive.

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