Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - How to fund the Child Nutrition Act?

In a struggling economy, finding money to help our most vulnerable citizens is difficult at best.  However, if you will give me some editorial leeway - some exchanges just make no sense: e.g. the current proposal  to fund the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act by cutting SNAP benefits.  It's not just a small cut: food stamp recipients will receive about $59 less per year in benefits.  While the new Child Nutrition Act does offer many important improvements specific to the needs of the food insecure, it does not offer food directly to families to offset this cut, nor does it help needy people with no children.

This does not mean that I don't think SNAP is overdue for an overhaul.  I am concerned that any liquor store or corner shop offering a few edibles can accept these federal dollars Since there are few limits on what qualifies as "food," there is little incentive for these fringe food purveyors to offer healthy options.  States have even been rebuffed in their attempts to improve public health by imposing restrictions on what foods may be eligible for purchase SNAP dollars.   

It is important to note that this isn't impossible: WIC, funded under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, has taken the approach of balancing available funding with the food needs of its participants.  Each state has a specific list of WIC eligible food, typically including whole grain cereals, beans, dairy products, and certain canned fish.  It is my personal belief that WIC is what made the food desert project possible; most drugstores, even in the food desert, carry WIC-eligible foods.  

All that being said, these programs aren't always sufficient at the current level of funding.  SNAP and WIC dollars are often supplemented by charities.   Instead of using reductions in one program to fund the other, what if we looked at the bigger picture?  Logically, if one goal of the Federal Government is to promote a healthy diet for all Americans, perhaps the first place to look is the American diet.  Note that just under half our diet consists of products associated with feed grain: dairy, meat, poultry, eggs, and even sweeteners like HFCS: even the USDA has stated that these products should play a smaller role in a healthy diet. 

I propose that we consider funding the Child Nutrition Act through cuts to USDA feed grain subsidies.  While this will amount to a small increase in the price of the foods listed above, this small incentive to improve our diet has the potential to further improve the health of future generations.  Please, write your elected representatives and ask them to consider other funding sources for this very important legislation. 

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