While many families gather around the Thanksgiving table this week to give thanks, some of us will be left out. The nearly 16 million children living in poverty will be struggling to have something to be thankful for. These families won’t be choosing between sweet potato or pumpkin pie this holiday season but will face choices about paying for groceries or rent, heat, medicine or clothing —choices no family should have to make in our nation with the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world. And while these families will struggle to make such choices, Congress will be choosing how many of these desperate families and children to cut from life-giving and life-sustaining programs such as SNAP. Congress has put the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often called food stamps) on the chopping block.
Congress is working to cut $4 billion from SNAP while the House bill slashes more than $40 billion—denying food to as many as six million people, including children, seniors, and veterans. The House proposal would also drop 210,000 children from school meals. SNAP lifted 2.2 million children out of poverty in 2012 and provided benefits to over 46 million Americans including more than 22 million, or more than one in four children. SNAP was a life saver for millions of families in need during the recent recession and still sluggish recovery. Any cuts will take desperately needed food away from many vulnerable children and adults.
At a time when child poverty remains at a record high, and three-quarters of our nation’s teachers report students who routinely show up to school hungry, what kind of political leaders could for one minute consider cutting food assistance to children that need it? Hunger and malnutrition have devastating consequences for children and have been linked to low birth weight and birth defects, obesity, mental and physical health problems, and poorer educational outcomes. SNAP cushions these threats and children who benefit from SNAP are less likely to be in poor health, experience fewer hospitalizations, and are less likely to have developmental delays. A recent study found that needy children who received food assistance before age five were in better health as adults. Specifically, the girls studied were more likely to complete more schooling and earn more money, and not rely on safety net programs such as SNAP.
Adults who care and have common sense would strengthen, not cut this critical lifeline for children. During this Thanksgiving week, those of us blessed with enough or too much food can show our gratitude by urging our political leaders to put hungry children first for a change.
And by saying a prayer for those less fortunate.