Murkowski Urges Agriculture Secretary to Alaskanize Food Assistance Policies

Senator Reminds USDA of Hidden Costs Connected to SNAP Program Changes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski reached out to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remind him of guidance she placed in the recently-enacted Farm Bill as he crafts rules for stores participating in the food stamp program, warning without such guidance, “proposed regulations may be drafted based on circumstances commonly found in the Lower 48, rather than the more unique and challenging environment of rural Alaska.”

The Agriculture Bill of 2014 (also known at the Farm Bill) increased requirements for retailers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Under the new law, stores will have to stock an additional category of perishable food. In a letter (attached) to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Murkowski shared her concerns that crafting regulations to implement the new law with only the Lower 48 in mind could be damaging to rural Alaskan stores and residents.

The language that Murkowski included in the Farm Bill directs the Department of Agriculture to consider the realities of remote communities in Alaska and Hawaii.  It reads:

The Committee also recognizes that, in remote communities in non-contiguous states, it is not unusual for there to be only one retail food store in operation. These retail stores are typically located in communities that are connected neither to the rest of the state’s road network nor to a major electrical grid. Food is typically transported to the community via small aircraft, and diesel generators generally provide electrical power to such communities, posing challenges for such stores to operate adequate refrigeration and freezing equipment to store perishable foods. The Committee intends for the Secretary to consider all of the aforementioned unique criteria when evaluating applications by retail food stores located in remote communities in non-contiguous states that are either applying to participate in the SNAP program or currently participate in the program.

Murkowski also noted the uniquely-Alaskan cultural importance and challenges of nutrition and food availability in her letter to Secretary Vilsack:

Rural Alaskans value the cultural tradition and economic necessity of subsistence food gathering, including hunting, fishing, and berry picking.  Many families stock their freezers with traditional foods they have gathered from the land and water.  Stores and customers are also often loathe to invest in the purchase of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products due to the high cost that results from the need to fly everything into our many communities that lack road access.