On Tuesday, April 10, the Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s Health Watch hosted a briefing to discuss the financial cost of food insecurity and hunger. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), co-chair of the Bipartisan Hunger Caucus, has championed the health-related cause of hunger and food insecurity and called for his colleagues to focus on nutrition, food, and hunger in America. McGovern said he is concerned with the misclassification of the word “reform” and that we need to determine how to expand food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Findings have revealed that there is a link between nutrition and a child’s ability to learn in school and that hunger is a nonpartisan issue that we need to figure out how to end it.
The briefing panel started with comments by Catherine Damato, President & CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank in Massachusetts. In her remarks she highlighted current funding under SNAP and that at $1.40 per person per meal it is insufficient.
Other panelists included Jessica Frazier, Witness of Hunger, Dr. Michael Hole, Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Population Health at the University of Texas, Austin Dell School of Medicine, and Dr. John Cook, Principal Investigator and report author of Children’s HealthWatch.
Dr. Cook provided research findings that estimate health-related costs of food insecurity in the United States to be $160 billion and that there is a connection between health conditions and food insecurity. The 2016 report indicated that 1 in 5 children lived in households with food insecurity and a third of children live in hunger daily. Dr. Cook emphasized that food insecurity is not the fault of families but is a systemic issue that is political. Millions of Americans are living with wages that are not livable. His recommendation is to support local wage and a safety net programs for all people especially those who fall on hard times.
Dr. Hole said that, “hunger does not discriminate,” and it impacts rural and urban communities, girls and boys, all races, and every congressional district. He shared the stories of Abigail and Matthew, who he treated as a street pediatrician in Austin, Texas as a way to put a face on the issue. Ms. Frazier provided direct experience as a recipient of SNAP. She was laid off from her job after seven years and her unemployment ended. She spoke about how the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) special program educated her about proper nutrition and allowed her to give her children a daily nutritious meal. Ms. Frazier also dispelled the myth that individuals were defrauding the government to get SNAP.
Presenters also discussed the impact of the nutrition debate on immigrant communities especially in light of the current administration agenda. In Texas, Dr. Hole sees the impact regularly as a pediatrician. He worries about the toxic stress on children and families. Dr. Cook, who is based in Vermont, discussed how the dairy farm workers are majority immigrants and that the narrative in this country contradicts the common stereotypes. Many families in Massachusetts have moved to accessing private program pantries than public infrastructure in fear of immigration concerns.
There was panel consensus that there needs to be more focus on hunger in America. SNAP, being targeted by the Administration, is the most prominent and only federal program that addresses the downturn in the economy. SNAP lifts millions of people out of poverty, supports work, reduces hunger, and bolsters local economies, and Congress must protect and strengthen SNAP.
To view SNAP participation in your congressional district data, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has a mapping tool to view statistics related to poverty, SNAP participation, and food insecurity, visit: bit.ly/2h7iJZf.