Ge­or­gia’s case for keep­ing SNAP in the Farm Bill

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Ash­ley L. Matthews

Congress will soon be vot­ing on dras­tic changes to the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP) as part of the Farm Bill Reau­tho­riza­tion. Ma­jor changes could re­sult in the loss of ac­cess to crit­i­cal food as­sis­tance or re­duce ben­e­fits for Ge­or­gia res­i­dents who are el­i­gi­ble or cur­rently par­tic­i­pat­ing in the SNAP pro­gram.

Hunger and food in­se­cu­rity are a re­al­ity of daily life for many of our Ge­or­gia neigh­bors, chil­dren, se­niors, vet­er­ans and ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary. Ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices, there were 762,301 house­holds that re­ceived food stamps in Ge­or­gia in 2017. SNAP rep­re­sents the life­line for those chal­lenged by work­ing long days at low wages, fac­ing an un­ex­pected health emer­gency or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing job loss or long-term dis­abil­ity. Per July 2017 data pub­lished by the USDA Food and Nu­tri­tion Ser­vices, of the 158 Ge­or­gia coun­ties re­port­ing bian­nual data, Dekalb, Ful­ton, Gwin­nett, Clay­ton and Cobb had the high­est rates of SNAP par­tic­i­pa­tion.

SNAP makes eco­nomic sense, caus­ing money to quickly flow into the economy by boost­ing spend­ing at lo­cal re­tail­ers. Per the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices, from ev­ery $1 is­sued in SNAP ben­e­fits in Ge­or­gia, $1.70 in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity is gen­er­ated. Ad­di­tion­ally, $2.54 bil­lion in food stamps were added to the Ge­or­gia economy in state fis­cal year 2017.

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 in­comes who do not par­tic­i­pate. SNAP par­tic­i­pa­tion by preg­nant women has proven to re­duce the num­ber of chil­dren born with low birth­weight by as much as 23 per­cent. Chil­dren par­tic­i­pat­ing in SNAP are less likely to have ane­mia or nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies and more likely to do bet­ter in school.

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. Two in­no­va­tive pro­grams, Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram Ed­u­ca­tion and the Ex­panded Food Ed­u­ca­tion Nu­tri­tion Pro­gram, known as SNAP-Ed and EFNEP, are also at risk in Congress. SNAP-Ed and EFNEP com­bined ac­count for less than one-tenth of 1 per­cent of fed­eral health care spend­ing. Pro­posed changes to the pro­grams through the reau­tho­riza­tion of the 2018 Farm Bill could quickly un­der­mine their suc­cess. This will di­rectly im­pact the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices State Fis­cal Year 2018 goal to pi­lot ex­pan­sion of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing pro­grams for SNAP re­cip­i­ents who are not cat­e­go­rized as “Able-Bod­ied Adults With­out De­pen­dents” (ABAWD) to help in­crease self­suf­fi­ciency of re­cip­i­ents.

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 lo­cal farm­ers. Ac­cord­ing to the USDA Food and Nu­tri­tion Ser­vices, 92 farm­ers mar­kets in Ge­or­gia ac­cept SNAP ben­e­fits.

Cuts in SNAP will also have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the Ge­or­gia Food Bank As­so­ci­a­tion, our statewide net­work that is com­prised of seven re­gional food banks as part of the Feed­ing Amer­ica Net­work. Per the Ge­or­gia Food Bank As­so­ci­a­tion, they work through over 2,000 part­ner agen­cies and pantries to dis­trib­ute ap­prox­i­mately 130 mil­lion pounds of food an­nu­ally in Ge­or­gia. A de­crease in SNAP ben­e­fits will in­crease the reliance on this net­work by food in­se­cure Ge­or­gians 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 Ge­or­gia.

As a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian nu­tri­tion­ist, I am urg­ing my mem­bers of Congress, Rep. Barry Lou­d­er­milk and Sens. Johnny Isak­son and David Per­due, 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 Ge­or­gia Cit­i­zens.

Ash­ley L. Matthews, MS, RDN, LD, CNSC, PMP, is a mem­ber of the Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics Qual­ity Leader Al­liance and serves on the Ge­or­gia Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics’ Pub­lic Pol­icy Com­mit­tee as the State Re­im­burse­ment Rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

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