BY KIM BELLARD
As many of you did, I followed the recent debt ceiling saga closely, and am relieved that we now have a compromise, of sorts. The House Republicans demanded a lot of things, most of which they did not get, but one area where they did prevail was in toughening work requirements for food (SNAP) and income (TANF). They somehow believe that there are uncounted numbers of “able-bodied” people sitting around on their couches collecting government benefits, a myth that goes back to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen stereotype, and have long advocated work requirements as the remedy.
Ironically, according to the CBO, the work requirements passed may actually increase federal spending by as much as $2b, and increase the number of monthly recipients by as many as 80,000 people, but who’s counting?
All this seems timely because of some new studies that illustrate – once again — that, yes, poverty is bad for people’s health, and helping them get even a little bit more out of poverty improves their health.
By CHRISTINA BADARACCO
The $867 billion Farm Bill squeaked through our polarized Congress at the end of last year, though it was nearly derailed by arguments over work requirements for SNAP recipients. That debate was tabled after the USDA crafted a compromise, but it is sure to continue at the state level and in the next round of debates. While Republicans tend to favor work requirements and Democrats tend to oppose them, here’s something both sides can agree on: SNAP should help Americans eat healthy food.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—provides financial resources to buy food and nutrition education to some 40 million low-income Americans. Costing taxpayers almost $80 billion per year, the program serves Americans across the spectrum of ages, ethnicities, and zip codes. Simultaneously, we reached a deficit of almost $800 billion in 2018. So how can we ensure this at-risk population of Americans can access nutritious food and better health outcomes within the confines of our current resources?
Studies have proven time and again how participation in SNAP reduces rates of poverty and food insecurity. And the program has improved substantially in recent years, with recipients now using debit-style cards to buy groceries and receiving increased benefits at thousands of farmers markets across the country.
Despite these clear benefits, SNAP dollars often don’t support healthy diets. In fact, a 2015 study determined that SNAP participants had poorer diets, with more empty calories and less fresh produce, than income-eligible non-participants. In 2017, another study found that participants have an increased risk of death due to diet-related disease than non-participants. The authors reported that the discrepancy might be partly caused by individuals who think they have high risk of poor health and/or struggle to pay medical bills are more likely to put in the effort to enroll in and redeem SNAP benefits. A recent survey of Americans across the country showed that foods purchased using SNAP benefits were higher in calories and unhealthy components, like processed meat and sweeteners, than those purchased by non-participants of the same income level.