The following is a guest post by Melissa Garrido, PhD (@GarridoMelissa). She is the Associate Director of the Partnered Evidence-based Policy Resource Center (PEPReC) at the Boston VA Healthcare System, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and a Research Associate Professor with the Department of Health Law, Policy, and Management at Boston University School of Public Health.
A new proposal from the Trump administration would make millions of Americans ineligible for federal food assistance. This is likely to make people sicker and cost Medicare and Medicaid more.
The US Department of Agriculture is proposing eligibility changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — limiting the number of people who are categorically enrolled based on receipt of other federal benefits. Chiefly affected are households including an older adult; thirteen percent of households including an older adult that are currently eligible for SNAP benefits are at risk of losing eligibility.
The government’s own analysis acknowledges that this change could exacerbate food insecurity — inadequate access to food — for those no longer eligible for SNAP. What they don’t acknowledge is that food insecurity is also linked to negative health outcomes.
Food insecurity is associated with an increased risk of both mental and physical health issues in adults, including depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and malnutrition. In food-insecure children, anxiety, aggression, asthma, and iron-deficiency anemia have been observed. Malnutrition, a consequence of food insecurity, weakens immunity and increases susceptibility to communicable illnesses.
The good news is SNAP works. Receipt of SNAP benefits is associated with reductions in food insecurity. It is also associated with reduced health expenditures among low-income adults. Among older adults, receipt of SNAP benefits is associated with reduced risks of hospitalization and nursing home admission. Older adults with SNAP are better able to afford medication — making them less likely to skip or ration important medications.
By restricting SNAP eligibility, the government will pay for nutrition assistance for fewer people. This may come at the price of worsened health status and increased health care spending for millions of Americans.
The USDA is seeking public comments on this proposal until September 23, 2019.