Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

The SNAP Vaccine: Keeping Kids Healthy

Time and time again we are reminded that hunger remains a problem in America. The latest reminder comes from a Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) poll.  Since 2008, Gallup has asked respondents if, in the last year, there was a time that they did not have enough money to buy the food their family needed. In 2011, 18.6 percent said, “yes” -- the highest annual rate yet.

This FRAC poll found that more people reported having trouble buying food in the last half of 2011, as food prices rose and unemployment and underemployment remained high. In fact, more people reported food hardship in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 (19.2 and 19.4 percent respectively) than in any period since the fourth quarter of 2008 – the height of the recession.  The states where the most people had trouble buying food were generally in the South. Mississippi (24.5 percent), Alabama (23.4 percent), West Virginia (22.5 percent), Kentucky (22.5 percent), and South Carolina (21.9 percent) had the highest percentages of food hardship.

Like an illness, hunger leads to poor health and hurts child development. The folks at Children’s HealthWatch point out that we already have a vaccine for the hunger: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps).  Like a good vaccine, SNAP effectively prevents malnutrition and alleviates hunger, allowing participants to get back on their feet. According to their research, children on SNAP are less likely to be underweight or have developmental delays. Families who can rely on SNAP are also less likely to make trade-offs between buying food and other staples like electricity and heat for their homes. By investing in the “SNAP vaccine,” we are putting end to hunger and its consequences.


In the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress enacted a temporary boost in SNAP benefits to combat rising food prices. FRAC’s polls found that the boost stemmed the rising number of families struggling to buy food during the recession. Two years after ARRA, Children’s HealthWatch found that children on SNAP were more likely to be healthy than eligible children who weren’t enrolled.

Unfortunately, Congress cut this increase in SNAP benefits to pay for other legislation. Families on SNAP will now see a drop in their benefits in October of 2013. The President rightly addressed this problem his recent budget proposal, but it’s up to Congress to enact it. Let’s continue to combat hunger and poor nutrition through this highly effective vaccine by protecting SNAP and returning the ARRA boost that has helped so many families. 

Ben-davanzoBen D'Avanzo is Mimi Meehan Fellow at Bread for the World.



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