Let's Resolve to End Food Insecurity

How are your New Year’s resolutions coming? For many of us, the New Year brings a renewed commitment to making healthy choices, particularly when it comes to the food we prepare for ourselves and our families. 

Child eatingFor the 48 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity, however, January is not a month for diet books and juicing. Instead, it’s another month to worry about how their family will get its next meal. Despite the economic recovery, one in seven American households, and one in five households with children, lacks consistent access to adequate, nutritious food. With limited budgets, low-income families are faced with the daily stress of making decisions between spending money on food or other essentials, like utilities, transportation, medical care, housing, child care, and education. In the face of these choices, many families  adopt coping mechanisms, the most common of which is purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), the largest federally funded nutrition program, provides monthly benefits to low-income Americans to supplement their food budgets. Money from SNAP can be spent at authorized retailers, and some farmers markets, on foods that recipients prepare and eat at home. SNAP recipients nationally spend over 85% of benefits on fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, meat and meat alternatives. Beneficiaries also increase the amount of money they spend on groceries each month, instead of simply replacing their food budget with SNAP dollars. By supplementing, not replacing, grocery budgets and allowing for the purchase of more nutritious food, SNAP reduces food insecurity in low-income households.

In addition to helping a family afford healthier food, SNAP promotes long-term health and stability. Children who receive nutrition supports are healthier across a variety of measures and more likely to finish high school. A report recently released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers details the long-term benefits of this program. Mothers who received support during pregnancy had fewer low birth-weight babies. Adults who received support when they were children have lower obesity rates and metabolic syndrome and are more likely to have completed high school. And women who are helped by SNAP show significant improvements in overall health and economic self-sufficiency.

On January 1 of this year, Illinois made a commitment to keep working Illinoisans and their families healthy by expanding SNAP eligibility for low-income households with high expenses. This change to eligibility, specifically increasing the gross income limit from 130% to 165% of the federal poverty level, means that a family of three with up to $33,149 in annual income may now qualify for SNAP (depending on their expenses). The previous cutoff for a family of three was $26,117.

This expansion in eligibility for SNAP is the result of an advocacy campaign led by the Shriver Center and Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights. The legislation enacting this change, Senate Bill 1847, was sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss and Representative Robyn Gabel.

An estimated 40,000 households and 80,000 people in Illinois will become eligible for SNAP, and more than 80% of the benefits will go to households that include children. Moreover, the state economy will benefit from up to $60 million in additional, 100% federally funded SNAP benefits that will be spent in our communities. Long-term, this change will keep Illinois families healthy and support children in school.

As we resolve to form healthy habits for ourselves this year, let’s also support programs like SNAP, which help over 2 million Illinoisans make nutritious choices. Everyone in Illinois deserves a healthy 2016 and, for many, access to SNAP and other public benefits offer critical support to make this happen.

MacKenzie Speer contributed to this blog post. 

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