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Day of action focuses on CT undocumented's healthcare needs; 7 jurors seated in first Trump criminal trial; ND looks to ease 'upskill' obstacles for former college students; Black Maternal Health Week ends, health disparities persist.

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Seven jury members were seated in Trump's hush money case. House Speaker Johnson could lose his job over Ukraine aid. And the SCOTUS heard oral arguments in a case that could undo charges for January 6th rioters.

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Fears grow that low-income folks living in USDA housing could be forced out, North Carolina's small and Black-owned farms are helped by new wind and solar revenues, and small towns are eligible for grants to boost civic participation..

One-year extension of farm bill buoys food insecure in MD

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Tuesday, January 2, 2024   

The November continuing resolution included a one-year extension of the 2018 farm bill, marking a temporary reprieve for Marylanders relying on nutrition programs.

The extension will hold spending at 2018 levels through September 30. But in the years since the last farm bill was passed, the nation has seen dramatic food-price inflation.

The historical average food-price increase was around 2% per year, but in 2022 food-at-home prices increased 11% - and while inflation has slowed recently, another 5% increase was seen in 2023.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts food price inflation will continue to slow in 2024, but that will not undo the price increases seen in recent years.

The political prospects for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP have been up and down since the summer, but Michael J Wilson - director of the nonprofit Maryland Hunger Solutions - said cuts to nutrition programs reverberate through the economy.

"When we make cuts - in SNAP, for example - it doesn't just hurt low-income folks," said Wilson. "It hurts the entire food system, where we're losing additional revenue - for grocery stores, for farmers' markets, for farmers, for producers. We really hope that Congress will look at this holistically and systemically and not just politically."

Wilson said when the SNAP emergency allotments ended last March, it reduced the amount of money in the Maryland economy by $69 million a month.

Nutrition supports in the farm bill are numerous and not limited to SNAP.

They include the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and focused programs such as the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program - which provide low-income seniors with access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs.

Looking at the bigger picture Wilson said emerging science is reminding us about the importance of nutrition.

"The thing that's a little novel is the way we're now talking about food as medicine," said Wilson. "Because we recognize that people who don't have access to nutritious food has an impact on their health, has an impact on our health-care system, has an impact on both Medicaid and Medicare."

Data from the Congressional Research Service reports that more than 41 million Americans rely on nutrition assistance in the average month.

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