Save SNAP And Protect Vulnerable People

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Most people would love to eat something healthy and delicious for dinner, but preparing a nutritious meal can be a challenge, especially on a tight budget. Hunger and food insecurity are a reality of daily life for too many of our New Jersey neighbors, children, seniors, veterans and active-duty military, who struggle to make ends meet. According to the non-profit group, Feeding America, 10.8 percent of households in NJ faced limited access to adequate food because of a lack of money or other resources.

Almost a million New Jersey residents do not always know how they will afford their next meal. Fortunately, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the nation’s largest food assistance program, strengthens families and the nation by keeping more than 8 million people out of poverty, including over 360,000 children, 128,000 seniors, and 218,000 disabled in New Jersey as of January 2018, while improving health and lowering health care costs. However, this crucial program faces an uncertain future as Congress debates the 2018 farm bill, the primary legislation that authorizes agriculture and food policy in the U.S.

SNAP is a lifeline for those challenged by working long days at low wages, facing an unexpected health emergency or experiencing job loss or long-term disability. SNAP has proven especially beneficial for pregnant women, reducing the numbers of children born with low birthweight by as much as 23 percent. For children, food assistance can benefit them for the rest of their lives: Children participating in SNAP are less likely to have anemia or nutritional deficiencies and more likely to do better in school.

SNAP also makes economic sense, causing money to quickly flow into the economy by boosting spending at local retailers and benefitting Jersey farms. The investment we make in SNAP also reduces spending on future health care. On average, low-income adults participating in SNAP experience health care costs that are nearly 25 percent lower than those with similar income who don’t participate.

In most U.S. counties, the SNAP benefit does not even cover the full cost of a meal. Feeding America estimates an increase of $5.3 million would allow all New Jersey residents to afford an adequate and nutritious diet each year, building on the effectiveness of the program. That’s just a little more than $3 per meal.

The farm bill also funds the effective nutrition education programs known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed, and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP. These programs help maximize their investment by teaching people how to stretch their limited food dollars to buy healthy meals. Research has shown the benefits of these programs continue for years after participation in the program has ended.

Combined, SNAP-Ed and EFNEP account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of federal health care spending. With a budget of just $68 million in 2016, EFNEP worked with 119,000 adults and 365,000 children – a total program cost of less than $150 for every individual reached. Of these, 98 percent of adults improved nutrition practices, 84 percent improved food resource management skills and 65 percent improved food security practices by participating in the program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also at risk in Congress is the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, a program that provides a cash incentive for purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables, ensuring that dollars are spent on healthy food while boosting the market for Jersey farmers.

In all these ways and more, SNAP does great things to reduce hunger and food insecurity. As Registered Dietitians and members of the New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we are urging Senators Menendez and Booker, as well as all New Jersey House members not to cut SNAP’s funding or include harmful changes in the farm bill. Let’s continue to build on SNAP’s strengths and the programs that shore up its success.

 

The New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

 

 

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