Dr. Mariana Chilton, Children’s HealthWatch Principal Investigator, wrote a response to a statement from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

Stabenow’s Office Says She is Stamping Out “Food Stamp Fraud”

The office of Senator Debbie Stabenow issued a statement in response to Greg Kaufmann’s recent article, which criticized her willingness to accept increased cuts to SNAP, and in turn, Greg Kaufmann, Joel Berg, and Dr. Mariana Chilton each responded to the statement.

Response from Dr. Mariana Chilton, PhD, MPH, Children’s HealthWatch Principal Investigator and Director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, Drexel University School of Public Health:

When Senate Ag leadership likens the cuts to SNAP as “savings” that curb “misuse of a LIHEAP paperwork policy,” we can see that they do not fully grasp the way that American families experience hunger and food insecurity.

Families don’t go hungry in a vacuum. Families make terrible tradeoffs between paying for heat or paying to eat. The women of Witnesses to Hunger — who use their photography and stories to describe their experiences with hunger and poverty — can tell you that first hand. Jill Shaw, a member of Witnesses to Hunger from Central Pennsylvania shows a picture of her stove, and writes: “I am a witness to hunger everyday. I am a witness to the disappointment in my children’s eyes when they tell me they are hungry and I tell them there’s no food. My stove is a source of heat more than it is a source for cooking food.” To learn more about housing and utilities and how they relate to hunger, just take a brief tour here of America’s reality in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Camden, NJ. If you want this in cold hard numbers instead of pictures and experiences, see our Children’s HealthWatch research.

Those of us on the ground: pediatricians, public health researchers, social services providers and the true experts — those who know hunger and poverty first hand — recognize that the forward thinking states have attempted to prevent the worst of hunger and the worst of frigid mornings. The states that utilize the heat and eat provision, are actually improving our current income support systems, because they are calculating the amount of SNAP benefits needed when one considers the true cost of shelter. To learn more about this, check out the Congressional Research Service explanation.

This LIHEAP provision is a protection for families based in a cold hard reality: food insecurity is a form of hardship based on trading off costs of basic needs. It’s a smart work around that ought to be scaled up across the country, not slashed as a technical expediency. If there were really forward thinking change coming out of the Senate and House, the SNAP benefit calculation would be based on the true cost of shelter regardless of whether or not a family receives LIHEAP. It’s a frigid wake-up indeed, to see these proposed cuts. Some have said that the House GOP is out of touch with low-income America, but sometimes it seems as if all of our leaders are out of touch.

Read Sen. Stabenow’s statement and the responses by Greg Kaufmann and Joel Berg here.