Cutting 700,000 Americans from SNAP will increase health costs

Originally published on Stat News.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is our nation’s first line of defense against food insecurity. It’s a lifeline that can provide enough food for all household members to lead healthy and active lives.

As a fundamental component of America’s public health and economic infrastructure, SNAP helps sustain people when the economy goes into recession, disasters happen, life takes unforeseen turns, wages are too low, or work is hard to find.

The research is clear: food insecurity and hunger are linked to negative health outcomes across the lifespan, like anemia, developmental delays, and suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents, and depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure in adults. This is why SNAP is important medicine.

Despite these benefits, the Trump administration announced on Wednesday its plan to finalize and implement a rule that will stop an estimated 700,000 people from receiving benefits through SNAP. The rule will cut off individuals who are unable to certify that they worked at least 80 hours per month within three months of SNAP enrollment, even if they live in areas where work opportunities are limited.

By restricting participation in the program by adults without dependent children who are struggling to retain steady employment in today’s workforce, the administration’s action will increase hunger in communities across the country and harm public health.

Our work as a pediatrician and public health researchers, with our colleagues at Children’s HealthWatch, has demonstrated the significant positive effect SNAP has on the health of young children and families. We recently showed how reducing benefits or cutting people from the program harms health.

While our work focuses specifically on health outcomes associated with SNAP participation among families with young children, we know from clinical experience that the administration’s policy will have unintended effects on families, children, and communities.

Adults subject to the restrictions outlined in this rule include non-custodial parents supporting their children in various ways and grandparents, aunts, and uncles who often provide for their extended family members through pooled resources. So the additional burdensome restrictions on SNAP eligibility for able-bodied adults would have ripple effects resulting in fewer resources available to support the health and well-being of children and threaten the health of communities nationwide.

Given the strong evidence on SNAP’s benefits, we believe that the Trump administration’s final rule will have short-and long-term harms to health, which will contribute to higher health care expenditures in the future. The administration estimates $5.5 billion in savings from cutting nearly three-quarters of a million adults from the SNAP program. But that estimate fails to account for the increased health care costs associated with food insecurity.

According to our research and that of others, the costs of food insecurity related to health and education in the U.S. are staggering. We estimated the total health, education, and lost productivity costs of food insecurity in the U.S. to be more than $178 billion in 2014. SNAP helps reduce these costs. Using data from national datasets, one study found that participation in SNAP was associated with lower health care expenditures by approximately $1,400 per person per year.

SNAP has also been shown to be an effective economic stimulus, producing $1.79 billion in economic activity for every $1 billion of SNAP benefits distributed. Additionally, each $1 billion of SNAP benefits generates an estimated 9,800 full-time and part-time jobs and self-employment. Far from discouraging work, SNAP creates jobs, reduces food insecurity and hunger, and promotes health — all of which are necessary for a healthy, thriving population.

The stated goal of the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP, is to “do right and feed everyone.” The Trump administration’s final rule does wrong. It threatens the health of adults, children, and entire communities struggling to makes ends meet and it harms the public health of our country.

All people in this country should have access to enough food to live healthy, productive lives. Improving access to SNAP, not reducing it, would reduce food insecurity and improve the health and economic vitality of our communities.

Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba is the executive director for Children’s HealthWatch based at Boston Medical Center. Diana B. Cutts, M.D., is the co-lead principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch and a pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Allison Bovell-Ammon is the director of policy strategy for Children’s HealthWatch.