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The Food Stamp Program is America’s first line of defense against hunger and the foundation of our national nutrition safety network. Physicians and medical researchers also think it is one of America’s best medicines to prevent and treat childhood food insecurity.

Food Insecurity

A technical term many frontline workers call hunger, food insecurity refers to limited or uncertain access to enough nutritious food for all household members to lead an active and healthy life.

The Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program (C-SNAP)—a non-partisan network of pediatricians and public health specialists who conduct research, based on a dataset of nearly 24,000 children, on the effects of US social policy on young, low-income children’s health and nutrition—has concluded that food stamps can make a crucial difference in determining a child’s health status and the course of his or her development. By reducing food insecurity, food stamps can decrease a child’s risk of:

  • Hospitalization

  • Poor health

  • Iron deficiency anemia

  • Deficits in cognitive development

  • Behavioral and emotional problems

Funded under the nutrition title of the Farm Bill, the Food Stamp Program enables low-income families to buy food in authorized retail stores. Eligibility and monthly benefit levels are calculated according to a balance of a family’s income, assets, and expenses.

On average, 25.7 million Americans receive food stamps every month. Half (50%) of all recipients are children, and nearly one-third (29%) of all recipient households are employed.i The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the number of potentially eligible people participating in the program increased from 53% in 2001 to 60% in 2004.ii The average recipient household in 2004 had income at 60% of the federal poverty level—$12,000 per year, for a family of four—with just 12% of participating households’ incomes falling above the poverty line.

2007 Farm Bill Reauthorization: Refilling the Prescription

The Food Stamp Program is reauthorized every five years, under the nutrition title of the Farm Bill. In 2007, when the Farm Bill is next reautho- rized, legislators have an opportunity to ensure the Food Stamp Program continues to build on its success. Supporting the Food Stamp Program in 2007 will help protect the health of America’s children until 2012.

The need for food assistance remains strong. The America’s Second Harvest emergency food network provided hunger- relief services to an estimated 25.3 million low-income people in 2005—including 2 million children under age 5—an 8% increase since 2001,iii and a recent 24-city US Conference of Mayors survey noted that requests for food assistance rose by 12% in 2005.iv This increase may be attributable to rising energy, health, and housing costs, which combine to force many struggling Americans—often employed and with young children—to rely on food assistance to make ends meet and fill empty stomachs.

Hunger is not merely uncomfortable; for millions of American children, it is dangerous—jeopardizing their health and normal development. Infants and toddlers are particularly vulnerable because the first three years of life are a critical developmental period, during which the foundations are laid for growth and learning in later life. Early childhood food insecurity endangers children’s future academic achievement and workforce participation. Children starting life at a disadvantage have greater odds of remaining at a disadvantage.

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