Here is a riddle for you to ponder: How is it that slashing nutrition assistance by $40 billion over 10 years, could result in higher levels of government spending? Read on for the answer. But first, some background.
Last month, the budget fights in Washington D.C. reached a new low when the House passed a “split” Farm Bill – one that included only farm subsidies and infamously excluded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — also known as SNAP, the Michigan Food Assistance Program or “food stamps.” This was the first time Congress acted to split the Farm Bill since 1977, when farm and nutrition programs were combined into a single bill.
The Michigan League for Public Policy, and a host of other organizations that advocate for the protection of low-income programs, reacted to this move with a letter to the Michigan House delegation calling for a unified Farm Bill and the strengthening of SNAP, the nation’s most important anti-hunger program.
In splitting the Farm Bill, the House Republican leadership intended to pass, at a later date, a nutrition-only Farm Bill that would slash spending on SNAP and other nutrition programs. True to their word, the latest House proposal is to cut SNAP — not by $20.5 billion, as a defeated earlier version of the House Farm Bill attempted, but by $40 billion.
This exceedingly harsh proposal would end food assistance for all nondisabled adults (with or without children) who have received food stamps for three months and are not working or in a job training program — even if there are no jobs or training available! Another provision of this bill would also terminate assistance for many low-income working families whose high child care and housing costs make it hard for them to afford food. This is at a time when both unemployment and need remain high, despite an official end to the recession.
Although we do not yet have estimates on the full impact of these proposals for SNAP households in Michigan, we do know that around 212,000 childless, jobless nondisabled adults would likely lose food assistance.
And now, the answer to the riddle above: Cutting spending on food assistance can lead to higher government spending by increasing healthcare spending and decreasing economic output, in the long term.
According to numerous studies, food insecurity – generally defined as not having regular access to adequate, healthy foods – is associated with some of the most costly health problems plaguing the nation. These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anemia, asthma and pregnancy complications. For children, the health outcomes of food insecurity can include low-birth weight – a known risk factor for infant mortality – birth defects, developmental problems, mental health problems, anemia and more frequent childhood ailments such as colds and stomachaches. Childhood poverty and hunger are also associated with poorer educational outcomes and decreased lifetime earnings in adulthood.
When SNAP benefits are reduced, families who have fallen on hard times can be placed in the impossible situation of choosing between hunger and good health. For these families, minor health problems will often become a second priority until they can no longer be ignored. Over time, what was once a minor ailment can become a serious illness, especially when compounded by poor nutrition due to limited access to healthy foods.
So, in the long-term those $40 billion in food stamp “savings” that the House is proposing, could become a very expensive healthcare bill that may cost the taxpayer more than $40 billion to pay.
– Yannet Lathrop