SNAP Cuts Are Penny and Pound Foolish

Over 30 percent of Bronx households are among the 47 million low-income Americans whose food stamp benefits were reduced on November 1 when the federal government let a 2009 boost to the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) expire. Locally and nationally, more than one in four children receive food stamps.

The $5 billion cut to SNAP is the largest in the decades-old program's history and comes paradoxically at a time when reining in health care spending is a national priority. House Republicans justify the cuts - and a proposal to further gut food stamps - in the name of deficit reduction. If they were truly serious about fiscal responsibility, they would support food stamps as a tool to help control health costs, one of the primary drivers of the nation's debt.

The treatment of preventable chronic disease is one of the most costly of all health problems. Obesity is a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer. Each year obesity-related problems cost the health care system $12 billion in New York State and $190 billion nationally.

Obesity rates are disproportionately high in low-income communities. Lack of access to nutritious food already forces families to rely on filling starches and cheap sodas instead of fruits, vegetables, dairy and healthy cuts of meat. In the South Bronx nearly 50 percent of children are obese or overweight. Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times as likely to be obese as adults.

Food stamps help low-income Americans keep obesity in check by enabling them to afford healthy foods. According to the Food Research and Action Center, young children receiving food stamps and/or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) have lower rates of nutritional deficiencies than low-income non-participants. Each additional food stamp dollar increases a household's score for overall dietary quality.

So, let's do the math. Since 2008, New York's monthly food stamp participation rate has increased by more than 57 percent. In July 2013, 16 percent, or nearly 3.2 million New Yorkers, including 1.2 million children and 1.1 million elderly and people with disabilities, received food stamps. And in fiscal year 2014, New York will see its food stamp budget shrink by $332 million.

These numbers simply don't add up to deficit reduction. Cuts in nutritional assistance today will lead to increasing health care costs in the near and long term.

Penny and pound foolish.