SNAP Builds a Healthier America for our Children

The country’s nutritional health remains a top priority for the Obama Administration. What and how we eat affects our ability to succeed, our hopes and dreams, the economy, the environment, and most of all, our children.

Despite the sobering news that 49 million Americans are food insecure, this figure has remained relatively stable since 2008. One key reason why is the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) direct ability to mitigate American hunger. When SNAP participation grew during the recession, the program expanded as intended. By providing a nutritional safety net during our economic recovery, SNAP puts food on the table for struggling Americans while they get back on their feet. SNAP also helps to feed the 15 million children living in food insecure households, as 20% of American children are living in poverty.

Today, SNAP is serving 47 million Americans. As the economy continues to improve, SNAP participation began to plateau in 2012 and is declining. The program’s ability to expand and contract with the economy reflects both President John F. Kennedy’s intention when he developed a 1961 pilot, and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s commitment to ending hunger by signing the Food Stamp Act of 1964. Thanks to their vision, SNAP still supplements the diet of food insecure Americans so that all Americans can have the food needed for an active, healthy life.

Food insecurity might mean skipping meals, worrying about where your next meal might come from, or changing your purchasing choices at the grocery store in order to stretch your wallet. SNAP alleviates such daily pressures for millions of Americans, and we need to support SNAP in the Farm Bill as hunger in America is often invisible, and paradoxically connected to obesity. Hunger hurts children, the working poor, veterans, seniors, and diverse communities alike. While 30% of American children are overweight or obese, almost half of SNAP recipients (45%) are children.

Since he took office, President Obama supported the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, legislation he signed in 2010 to improve school meals by the biggest strides in 30 years. The First Lady champions our goal of ending childhood obesity through Let’s Move! and a White House garden. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expands SNAP access in farmers’ markets, eradicates rural poverty by strengthening local agriculture, collaborates with communities through Farm to School programs, and offers a USDA microloan for new and beginning farmers so that we can dissolve our food deserts.

As our country moves toward a healthier, stronger food system, we must still provide all of our children healthy food. USDA programs like SNAP, WIC, and National School Meals give children the chance to eat well. These programs bridge our hunger gap and enable children to succeed so that one day they too may give back.

While food banks brace for higher demands in light of the recent SNAP cuts, children and youth are solving hunger in their communities. 6-year-old Jack Berman of Scottsdale, Arizona donated the $1020 he raised for us to feed hungry kids by running laps. Williams Field High School of Gilbert, Arizona raised 17,000 pounds of donated food by stuffing an entire school bus.

While we thank these young leaders for their inspiring achievements, we hope that one day their donations are no longer needed. In the meantime, SNAP cushions the hunger gap that our food banks are struggling to provide, and supports food security for our children. If we strengthen their nutritional health, then we strengthen their ability to grow up happy, healthy, and productive. As we celebrate and share food this holiday season, let us remember that our children deserve healthy food options today so that we may build a healthier America tomorrow. As President Kennedy once inspired, our commitment to the nutritional health of our children reflects what together we can do for our country.

Lisa Pino is President and CEO of the United Food Bank of Arizona. She was the former U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights and the former USDA Deputy Administrator of SNAP for President Obama’s Administration.
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