Would you go hungry so that your children had food? It’s a question more local families could be facing soon.

In Monroe County, over 100,000 people rely on SNAP (aka food stamps or EBT) to afford food each month. Many of these individuals are the children of working parents just trying to make ends meet. The SNAP program prevents these parents from having to choose between housing, medical care, or food for themselves and their kids. Even with crucial programs like SNAP, recent research by Common Ground Health has shown that the cost of food is the top barrier for people who would like to eat healthier, at the same time that diet remains one of the top concerns when it comes to health.

Millions of working families use SNAP to help put food on the table. A recent report by the National Academies of Science, one of the top research bodies in the country, recommended that barriers to SNAP be lowered so that kids can grow up healthy and vibrant. But a new rule proposed by the federal government would increase food insecurity for many of those families and put kids at risk of health problems. The government projects three million people will lose access to SNAP under the new rule. A recent blog post by Rochester non-profit The Children’s Agenda explains how a single dollar of additional earnings would cause a local family to lose hundreds of dollars of SNAP benefits and access to other important health-promoting programs such as Foodlink’s Curbside Market’s Double-Up Bucks. By the current Administration’s own admission, this change would increase food insecurity, and decades of research has shown that would harm whole child health. This blog will look at some of the many ways that SNAP supports kids’ health and development. It will let you know how you can speak up and say #HandsOffSNAP!

SNAP Nourishes Children’s Bodies

When kids go hungry, their physical health suffers. Years of research has shown that SNAP is a crucial program for child health. SNAP decreases food insecurity, which is when a family does not have enough food to meet their basic needs. According to multiple studies, parents in families that experience food insecurity are twice as likely to report that their kids health is only fair or poor. More studies have shown that that kids who are food insecure have measurable nutrient deficiencies and diseases because they are not getting enough healthy foods.

We know that there are higher numbers of chronic conditions and higher rates of hospitalizations among kids who are food insecure. Studies have also demonstrated more cases of iron-deficiency anemia in young children who are food insecure. Anemia can slow growth, cause fatigue and increase the risk of infections. Kids who are food insecure also have lower bone-mineral content, more frequent headaches, stomach aches, and colds. In Common Ground Health’s 2018 My Health Story survey, residents prioritized healthy weights, diet and nutrition as top health concerns.

SNAP Helps Kids in Succeed in School

By kicking kids off SNAP, the proposed rule change could jeopardize free breakfasts and lunches in school for more than 500,000 kids. In some states, including New York, children who receive SNAP benefits are automatically eligible to receive free school meals. Children who are not automatically eligible must submit an application to qualify.

Some high-poverty schools, including those in the Rochester City School District, also are able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students due to a high percentage of students being eligible for SNAP and other assistance. If fewer students are eligible, it may make it more difficult and more costly for schools to offer free meals.

Losing free school meals goes against what we know helps kids do their best in class. It will only make the problem of families losing access to SNAP worse. Simply put, food insecurity is bad for kids’ brains. The negative effects show up on test scores, when food insecure children are unable to keep up with their food secure peers in math and reading. As they get older, food insecure kids are more likely to be required to repeat grades.

SNAP Is Crucial for Developing Minds and Social-Emotional Skills

The poor test scores are just a symptom of what’s going on inside the developing minds of young kids suffering from food insecurity. As young brains grow, they forge countless new pathways and connections that will shape people for the rest of their lives. When young kids experience trauma and toxic stress, such as what they experience during food insecurity, it disrupts the brain’s ability to grow and make important connections. Without the right supports, this type of experience can make it hard for kids to develop important social and emotional skills. It can also lead to poorer health outcomes later in life.

Kids who experience food insecurity can have a harder time developing relationships, and they suffer from anxiety and withdraw from social environments more often that food secure kids. Self-control can be more difficult for hungry kid, and that can lead to trouble in school and at home. The negative symptoms affect kids of all ages, from adolescents (higher rates of symptoms of suicide) to toddlers (insecure attachment to their caretakers).

SNAP Protects Health, Let’s Protect SNAP

With all the evidence supporting SNAP as a highly-effective health intervention and a crucial lifeline for so many kids, why would the current administration take it away from so many struggling families? Congress debated these very issues this past year, and they agreed to not make any changes to the eligibility rules. The administration’s proposed changes would bypass Congress. This new rule would make it more costly for States to run their SNAP programs. The economic costs of lost purchasing power and negative health outcomes would counteract any supposed savings.

The proposed changes have been met with a flurry of opposition. Organizations like Healthi Kids, The Childrens Agenda, Foodlink, Food and Research Action Committee, and many, many more have spoken out in opposition to the rule. You too can make your voice heard. Before the rule can be made final, the public has a chance to submit comments opposing the changes. If you want to speak up for whole child health and say “Hands Off SNAP!”, visit FRAC’s action page.

Together we can take a stand on behalf of kids in Monroe County and around the country. In the end, they’ve done nothing to deserve the toxic stress that comes with wondering when they will get their next meal.