The first 100 days of a president’s term in office often set the stage for the fours years to come. Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the concept of a first 100 day mark during a radio address in 1933, each subsequent president has been evaluated on their successes and failures during this initial time period.
President Biden entered the White House with ambitious plans for his first 100 days, with some experts asserting that his first days in office might be the most crucial of any president since FDR. Taking office against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden quickly moved to sign a number of executive orders, roll out major legislation including a $1.9 trillion pandemic response bill, and appoint a new cabinet of officials to work with him. Included in these early initiatives were several with serious implications for food policy. Read on for a round-up of all of the food- and agriculture-related policies that have come out of the Biden administration’s first 100 days.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021:
- Extends the 15 percent increase, about $28 per person per month, in SNAP benefits through September 20, 2021.
- Provides $1.15 billion to states for SNAP program administration, including technological improvements for expanding online food purchasing.
- Allocates $490 million to the USDA to increase cash-value vouchers for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and allocates $390 million to increase enrollment in WIC.
- Extends the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Program (P-EBT) through the duration of the public health emergency, including into the summer, in order to make it easier for families with children receiving school lunches to purchase healthy food.
- Provides reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to emergency shelters for meals provided to individuals under the age of twenty-five.
- Allocates $37 million to senior nutrition programs under the Commodity Supplemental Nutrition Program.
- Provides $1 billion for nutrition assistance to the territories of the U.S.
Food Supply Chain:
- Provides long-term investments to increase the resiliency of the nation’s food supply chains, including the increase of food available for emergency food distribution through food banks, restaurants, and nonprofits; funding in the form of grants or loans to ensure food-worker safety, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 test kits; making investments in infrastructure and retooling support across the food supply chain; and supporting animal and livestock health by providing funding to monitor COVID-19 in animals and reduce overtime inspection fees for small poultry and meat producers.
Supporting Farmers of Color:
- The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act 2012 allocates $4 billion in loan relief for socially disadvantaged farmers, including farmers of color.
- Provides $1.01 billion to the USDA to build resources that support farmers of color, including a racial equity commission to examine racial justice in the department, funding to support agricultural programs at historically Black colleges and universities, and increased outreach, training, grants and loans to improve land access for farmers of color.
Supporting Rural America:
- Provides $500 million through the Community Facilities Program to help rural communities and hospitals broaden access to food assistance and COVID-19 vaccines.
Restaurants and Food Service:
- Establishes the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides $28.6 billion in relief to small and mid-sized restaurants negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative will provide tax-free federal grants to eligible restaurants to compensate for financial losses resulting from the pandemic, with a cap of $10 million per business and $5 million per physical location. The funds can be used for expenses incurred between February 15, 2020 and March 11, 2021.including mortgage payments, rent, utilities, payroll and benefits, operational expenses, maintenance, supplies, food, and any other expenses the SBA deems essential.The initiative will proritze women- and veteran-owned establishments and those owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals, including Black Americans, Hispanic Amerians, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.
- Executive Order 14002, Economic Relief Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic (January 22, 2021): Signed just two days after Biden’s inauguration, Executive Order 14002 was a quick response by the Biden administration to the growing hunger crisis in the nation. The order focuses on providing support for Americans struggling to buy food during the pandemic. It directs the USDA to increase funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in order to support families who need additional food aid. These efforts, which build upon the additional 15 percent increase in SNAP aid introduced in December 2020, and include instructing the USDA to find new avenues for increasing benefits to the lowest-income families on food assistance and providing additional support for school children through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. Also included in the Executive Order are plans for the USDA to immediately begin revising its Thrifty Food Plan, which is one of the federal government’s four food plans specifying dietary recommendations and estimating food costs and has long come under criticism from experts who say it underestimates the true cost of feeding a family. In addition, the order directs the Treasury Department to work towards ensuring delivery of stimulus payments to the eight million eligible Americans who have not yet received them.
- Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (January 27, 2021): This is an ambitious cross-sector plan for tackling climate change domestically and internationally. The order calls for all government agencies to work towards reducing pollution across every sector of the economy. It engages directly with agriculture in Section 214-216, which focuses on conservation of U.S. land and waters. In this section, the order calls for engaging farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to work towards conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and water by 2030. To do this, the Secretary of Agriculture will collect input from the nation’s Tribes, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups and other stakeholders about how best to utilize the department’s programs and funding to achieve its goal. And finally, The order calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to mobilize conservationists and resiliency workers and aid in shaping policy around conservation, reforestation, protecting biodiversity, and increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector.
- Executive Order 14017, America’s Supply Chains (February 24, 2021): Signed into action just over a month after Biden took office, Executive Order 14017 established the priority of supporting, strengthening and assessing national supply chains across sectors including supply chain production of agriculture and food products, under the Department of Agriculture. Included in the order are initiatives aimed at collecting data, supporting small businesses in Government supply chain policy, increasing education and workforce training, and ensuring supply chain resiliency against future crises and production obstacles.
The Paris Agreement
Just hours after being inaugurated, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, four years after the U.S. pulled out of the agreement in 2017 under President Trump. The international treaty on climate change, originally adopted by 196 parties in 2015, created a binding agreement among member parties who pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Although the agreement deals with global climate change in general and does not specifically address agriculture, it holds several implications for the future of food and farming. A recent paper published in Nature looks at global land-use emissions from agriculture and other sectors, arguing that significant changes in farming practices are necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. While the exact implications for U.S. farmers rejoining the agreement are still to be seen, there is speculation that U.S. reentry into the agreement will create opportunities for farmers to participate in carbon sequestering and work towards reducing emissions on farmlands.
Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
On February 23, 2021, Thomas J. Vilsack was confirmed as the 32nd Secretary of Agriculture by the U.S. Senate. This will be Vilsack’s second time in the role; he previously served as the Secretary of Agriculture from 2009-2017 under President Obama. Born and raised in Pittsburg, PA, Vilsack worked as a lawyer before turning to politics, serving as Mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, a member of the Iowa State Senate, and then Governor of Iowa from 1999-2007. He spent the last four years serving as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. As Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack leads the government agency that supports farmers and oversees and funds the country’s food assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the nation’s school meal programs. Vilsack’s confirmation was met with criticism from progresive farm groups and civil rights advocates who disapproved of how he handled USDA data and concealed history of discriminatory practices at the USDA during his previous time in the role, but was met with general support from large agricultural players including the National Farmers Union and the Farm Bureau. The new Secretary of Agriculture takes leadership of the USDA at a critical time, as the agency works to roll-out COVID-related aid for agricultural and food assistance programs and to overcome its long history of discrimination against Black, brown, and Indigenous farmers.