SNAP Cuts Are Hard to Swallow
By Aliyah Conley, CDF-Texas Health Policy Intern
In 2017, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helped over nearly 4 million Texans — 80 percent in families with children — put food on their tables. By expanding access to nutritious foods, SNAP improves health outcomes and lowers health care costs for children, working families, low-income seniors, and individuals with disabilities. In fact, research suggests that reducing food insecurity through SNAP dramatically lowers the risk of myriad chronic health conditions. As Congress looks to slash nutrition assistance programs in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is important to remember that SNAP is an effective and economical program that reduces food insecurity and improves health outcomes for Texas children.
Over 14 percent of Texas households were food insecure in 2017. Food insecurity refers to a cycle that starts when an individual or family cannot afford enough nutritious food. Usually, the cycle begins with compromising on dietary quality and engaging in restrictive or binge eating behaviors. Improper nutrition, increased financial stress, and anxiety about the acquisition of basic needs increases the likelihood of chronic disease. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity increases the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, asthma, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. For infants, poor nutrition may result in stunted growth and developmental delays, and for children, food insecurity may result in asthma and anemia, behavioral and cognitive issues, anxiety, depression, and poor health overall.
When people experience chronic disease, their health care expenditures increase and employability decreases. As income is stretched to cover health care costs or compensate for periods of unemployment due to compromised health, households are forced to choose between food and other necessities, including medicine (74 percent), utilities (59 percent), transportation (67 percent), and housing (57 percent). According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, adults in food-insecure households are 50 percent more likely to visit an emergency room and be admitted to a hospital (and stay hospitalized 50 percent longer) than adults in food-secure households. On average, individuals in food-insecure households spend 45 percent more on medical costs per year than people in food-secure households. Providing basic, economical access to nutritious food (SNAP provides $1.35 per person per meal in Texas), improves food security by as much as 30 percent, and health outcomes while reducing financial burden.
SNAP helps keep people healthy. Adults who received SNAP as children were 18 percent more likely to complete high school, and experienced decreased rates of stunted growth, heart disease, and obesity compared to their low-income counterparts who did not receive SNAP benefits. Additionally, mothers who received SNAP while pregnant had fewer low-birth weight infants. A 2015 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors found that exposure to SNAP in utero and in early childhood results in a significant reduction in the incidence of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as a 33 percent reduction in the likelihood of being obese.
SNAP participation reduces health care costs. On average, SNAP participants incur 25 percent less ($1,400) in medical care costs per year compared to non-participants of similar financial status. For individuals with metabolic disorders including hypertension and coronary disease, the savings are even greater ($2,700 less and $4,100 less, respectively). When individuals and families save money on health care expenditures, they have room to cover basic needs, invest in their communities, and save for the future. SNAP is a strong investment in public health and the frontline against food insecurity.
Looking ahead, House Agriculture Committee Chairman (and fellow Texan) Mike Conaway recently unveiled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). Although Chairman Conaway claims that his Farm Bill would lift up rural America, the legislation contains harmful cuts to nutrition assistance and provisions to expand work requirements for SNAP eligibility. The changes to SNAP in Chairman Conaway’s Farm Bill would cause more than one million low-income households with about two million people — particularly low-income working families with children — to lose their benefits altogether or have them reduced. Jeopardizing critical nutrition programs will put the health and well-being of Texas children, working families, and rural communities at risk. Now that is tough to chew on.
For further reading:
- A report on SNAP and improving health while reducing health care costs from the CBPP.
- A report on nutrition programs in Texas by the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
- A snapshot of SNAP benefits in Texas from the CBPP.
- A report outlining the harms to SNAP in Chairman Conaway’s Farm Bill from the CBPP.
- A report on the long-term benefits of SNAP from the White House Office of Economic Advisors (2015).