Last month, the Senate passed a bill that aims to reduce hunger and obesity. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will reauthorize the nation’s child nutrition programs such as School Breakfast, School Lunch, summer feeding, and the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program for pregnant women, infants, and children. There is much to like about this bill, which improves the nutritional quality of school meals and invests in strategies to enhance access to healthy foods.
Unfortunately (and ironically), the legislation proposes to pay for the bill’s improvements with $2.2 billion in cuts to improvements made to food stamp (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) benefits in the Recovery Act. These benefits were intended to gradually phase out as the rising price of food slowly eroded the value of the boost provided to families each month, sparing them an abrupt reduction. This cut would abruptly reduce benefits in November 2013, causing a family of four to lose about $59 every month from their food budget.
Food stamps help vulnerable children whose families have been swallowed up in this recession, and they are the number one policy option to spur economic recovery because the benefits are immediately spent in local economies. The SNAP cuts under consideration would not go into effect until 2013, but projections of a slow labor market recovery make the case for allowing these benefits to phase out slowly as intended.
Reauthorizing the child nutrition programs is a key legislative priority that must be accomplished this year if we are to make a dent in the president’s complementary goals of ending child hunger by 2015 and ending child obesity within a generation. But we will not accomplish those goals by taking money from one nutrition program to pay for another.
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