Congress will soon be voting on drastic changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of the Farm Bill Reauthorization. Major changes could result in the loss of access to critical food assistance or reduce benefits for Georgia residents who are eligible or currently participating in the SNAP.
Hunger and food insecurity are a reality of daily life for many of our Georgia neighbors, children, seniors, veterans and active-duty military. According to the Georgia Department of Human Services, there were 762,301 households that received food stamps in Georgia in 2017. SNAP represents the lifeline for those challenged by working long days at low wages, facing an unexpected health emergency or experiencing job loss or long-term disability. Per July 2017 data published by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, of the 158 Georgia counties reporting biannual data, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton and Cobb had the highest rates of SNAP participation.
SNAP makes economic sense, causing money to quickly flow into the economy by boosting spending at local retailers. Per the Georgia Department of Human Services, from every $1 issued in SNAP benefits in Georgia, $1.70 in economic activity is generated. Additionally, $2.54 billion in food stamps were added to the Georgia economy in state fiscal year 2017.
The investment we make in SNAP also reduces spending on future health care. On average, low-income adults participating in SNAP experience health care costs that are nearly 25 percent lower than those with similar incomes who do not participate. SNAP participation by pregnant women has proven to reduce the number of children born with low birthweight by as much as 23 percent. Children participating in SNAP are less likely to have anemia or nutritional deficiencies and more likely to do better in school.
SNAP has proved most effective when it is partnered with nutrition education programs that give people information and skills to buy and prepare healthy meals. Two innovative programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and the Expanded Food Education Nutrition Program, known as SNAP-Ed and EFNEP, are also at risk in Congress. SNAP-Ed and EFNEP combined account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of federal health care spending. Proposed changes to the programs in the reauthorization of the 2018 Farm Bill could quickly undermine their success. This will directly impact the Georgia Department of Human Services state fiscal year 2018 goal to pilot expansion of education and training programs for SNAP recipients who are not categorized as "able-bodied adults without dependents" to help increase self-sufficiency of recipients.
Also at risk in Congress is the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, a program that provides a cash incentive for purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables, ensuring that dollars are spent on healthy food while boosting the market for local farmers. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, 92 farmers markets in Georgia accept SNAP benefits.
Cuts in SNAP will also have a negative impact on the Georgia Food Bank Association, our statewide network that is comprised of seven regional food banks as part of the Feeding America Network. Per the Georgia Food Bank Association, they work through over 2,000 partner agencies and pantries to distribute approximately 130 million pounds of food annually in Georgia. A decrease in SNAP benefits will increase the reliance on this network by food insecure Georgians ultimately outpacing the ability of these resources to provide healthy food when demand increases.
SNAP and SNAP-Education programs do important things to reduce hunger and food insecurity in Georgia.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I am urging my members of Congress, Rep. Barry Loudermilk and Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, to not cut SNAP's funding or include harmful changes in the Farm Bill.
Let's continue to build on SNAP's strengths and the programs that ensure its success for Georgia Citizens.
Matthews, MS, RDN, LD, CNSC, PMP, is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Quality Leader Alliance and serves on the Georgia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Public Policy Committee as the state reimbursement representative.