This month, Congress is considering dramatic changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as part of the Farm Bill Reauthorization. These changes will place Idahoans receiving SNAP benefits at risk for food and financial insecurity. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, SNAP participation in Idaho has dropped from 10.57 percent of the population in February 2017 to 9.72 percent in February 2018. The improving economy has helped.
However, many Idaho counties such as Canyon, Bannock and Shoshone at 16 percent continue to have high rates of SNAP participation.
Hunger and food insecurity are a reality of daily life for many of our Idaho neighbors, especially children, seniors, veterans and active-duty military, who struggle to make ends meet and avoid food insecurity. According to the director of the University of Idaho Extension’s Eat Smart Idaho program, registered dietitian nutritionist Annie Roe, “While healthy diet and regular physical activity decrease odds of obesity related diseases, one in six children and 14 percent of Idahoans experience hunger or food insecurity due to a lack of money or resources.”
SNAP also makes economic sense, causing money to quickly flow into the economy by boosting spending at local retailers. The investment we make in SNAP also reduces spending on future health care. People who have the option to eat healthy foods tend to be healthier. 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.
SNAP has proved most effective when it is partnered with nutrition education programs that give people information and skills to buy and prepare healthy meals. Unfortunately, two innovative programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, are also at risk in Congress. Proposed changes to the programs through the reauthorization of the 2018 Farm Bill could quickly undermine their success.
Also at risk in Congress is the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, a program that provides a cash incentive for purchases of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, ensuring these dollars are spent on healthy food while boosting the market for local farmers. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, 27 Idaho farmers markets accept SNAP benefits.
Cuts in SNAP will also have a negative impact on The Idaho Foodbank, its statewide network of 400 schools and food pantries they support, and other local food pantries. A decrease in SNAP benefits will increase the reliance on this nonprofit network by food insecure Idahoans ultimately outpacing the ability of these resources to provide healthy food when demand increases.
SNAP and SNAP-Education programs do important things to reduce hunger and food insecurity in our state.
As registered dietitian nutritionists, we are urging our members of Congress, Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador and Sens. James Risch and Mike Crapo, to not 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 ensure its success for Idaho citizens.
Elaine M. Long, Ph.D., RDN, LD, is executive director of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Crystal Wilson, Ed.S., RDN, LD, is president of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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