Outraged by the Administration’s new budget proposal that includes massive cuts to many of the programs in place to protect human and environmental health, I wrote this handy-dandy Op Ed (my first ever!) to the SF Chronicle. It highlights my thoughts on Trump’s proposed cuts to SNAP, our nation’s food-aid service currently feeding 40 million Americans. Enjoy…
Let’s call Trump’s SNAP budget cut proposal what it really is: a Weapon of Mass Destruction
Not all weapons of mass destruction come with a launch code; some are neatly written up as policy, aiming to slowly and deliberately take down their target. Earlier this week, the Trump administration laid out the blueprint for their latest assault on America with the proposal to slash billions of dollars to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. The cut, which would start out by eliminating $17.2 billion from the budget in 2019, and continue to reduce the entire budget by 30 percent or $214 billion over the next ten years, would hit low-income families with children the hardest. As a Master’s student of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, I find Trump’s proposed changes to SNAP to be a dangerous threat to the health and wellbeing of our nation.
The hallmark of Trump’s new proposal is what the USDA is calling “America’s Harvest Box”, consisting of shelf-stable foods such as cereal, peanut butter, milk and canned vegetables. For SNAP recipients who receive over $90 a month towards food purchases, nearly half of their monetary benefit would be replaced with this pre-packaged box of commodity foods. Not only does this proposal violate the recipient’s freedom to make personal dietary choices – which can be shaped by cultural preferences, or religious and medical requirements – nutritionally speaking, the items suggested for the Harvest Box are processed foods known to contain high amounts of sugar, a major contributor to Type II diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 30 million children and adults in the United States are affected by diabetes. That’s 1 in 11 Americans. People with diabetes have health care costs that are 2.3 times greater than those without diabetes. The estimated total cost to the American public for the treatment of diabetes and prediabetes is $322 billion. Research has shown that diabetes is more prevalent in food-insecure households. It is unconscionable then, to prescribe this ‘one-size-fits-all’ food box to anyone, let along the population most at risk for developing this disease. Furthermore, removing choices from SNAP beneficiaries whose lack of income already limits their opportunities and options, is not a solution to the problem. It detracts from ongoing efforts to increase participation in the SNAP program and improve nutrition outcomes for low-income Americans.
While the Trump administration’s stated goal is to reduce federal spending, their tactic to target low-income Americans is not only vile, it’s flawed. Lowering the SNAP budget and replacing dietary choices with a box of commodity goods will only impose more stress and poor health upon our nation’s most vulnerable populations, invariably driving up healthcare and social service costs. Instead, I urge the administration to get behind programs that will increase access to fresh produce for SNAP recipients. We’ve already seen pilot programs such as the Healthy Food Purchase program and Farmer’s Market Promotion program achieve success. Both programs have been shown to increase healthy food consumption and improve health for low-income Americans. Not only do healthier people have lower health care costs, they miss fewer days of work, lessening the need to rely on programs like SNAP. The Healthy Food Purchase pilot program, put forth in the 2008 Farm Bill, incentivizes the purchase of fruits and vegetables, whereby for each SNAP dollar spent on fruits and vegetables, participants receive 30 cents added to their balance. The Farmers Market Promotion program supported by the USDA, awards grants to local food markets which boosts their economic viability, translating in to more fresh produce that is accessible and affordable to a wider community.
The most promising action we can make is to increase the access to fresh produce for SNAP recipients; to limit and dictate what those receiving the benefits should eat not only detracts from this goal, it undermines the strength of this program and threatens the health of our nation.