Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave nearly 700,000 people a lump of coal in their empty grocery basket [“Trump Rules Could Push 100K Marylanders Off Food Stamps,” Dec. 6]. Allowing people to go hungry and food insecure is not only unethical in a wealthy nation, but food insecurity has significant public health and economic repercussions as well.
In addition to change in the new work requirements, two more changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been proposed – and together, they will threaten the physical and social well-being of millions of children, youth and families. As public health professionals, we have plenty of evidence that this policy shift is moving us in the wrong direction.
SNAP, the program commonly referred to as food stamps, has a long history of bipartisan support.
Until this new rule, able-bodied adults without dependents were eligible to receive a maximum of three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period, unless they were working or enrolled in education or training programs for 80 hours a month. States had the ability to waive the time limit, recognizing that work opportunities are not always available.
Under this new rule, the state waivers will be sharply limited, posing a real threat for those who live in areas with fewer work prospects. Just last year, the U.S. Congress reauthorized the SNAP program with bipartisan opposition to this very policy, now scheduled to take effect April 1, 2020.
This new rule stands in stark contrast with Healthy People 2020, the national agenda set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
One of its goals is “promote health and reduce chronic disease risk through the consumption of healthful diets and achievement and maintenance of healthy body weights.” Multiple studies show that adults who are food insecure have higher rates of chronic diseases and have increased risk for obesity.
The concern does not rest simply with individual well-being. Compromised physical and mental health does not help individuals work nor does it help employers recruit and retain a stronger workforce. As the nation continues to grapple with health care – prevention of diseases and accessible and affordable treatment – we cannot overlook the importance of food and nutrition to the health of the public and to economic ramifications that will be felt by everyone, secure and insecure.
While those in favor of this and the two proposed rules point to the budget deficit, the culprit is not the SNAP program.
People receiving SNAP assistance, like housing and child care assistance, return it quickly to the local economy. Although the national employment numbers are up, that doesn’t mean everyone has access to a stable, well-paying job. Charities such as food banks already are overburdened and do not have the infrastructure nor the financial resources to meet this critical public need.
Congress has the ability to act and to reject this rule. The public health community stands ready to help our policymakers and the public understand the consequences of these decisions and to make better policy choices in the interest of the public’s health.
— ADELE ROBINSON AND DR. BORIS D. LUSHNIAK
The writers are, respectively, a Karabelle Pizzigati endowed clinical professor in advocacy for children, youth and families at the University of Maryland; and dean and professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
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