Food Insecurity Data Underscores Importance of Farm Bill for Children
Rachel Merker (Former Staff)Nutrition Poverty & Family Economics
New data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that the nation’s children continue to experience food insecurity at higher rates than the general population. 12.5 million children—or 17 percent—lived in food insecure households in 2017, meaning they lacked consistent access to enough healthy food to lead productive lives. Just 11 percent of adults, on the other hand, experienced food insecurity in 2017.
Food insecurity takes a costly toll on children. Not only does it increase the likelihood of poor nutrition and hunger, it also impacts their health, school performance, and behavior. The harmful effects of child food insecurity can reverberate into adulthood.
The fact that one in six children are still food insecure should be a chief concern for the lawmakers currently serving on the Farm Bill conference committee. The Farm Bill authorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is a critical tool for combatting food insecurity. SNAP provides low-income families with additional funds to spend exclusively on groceries. As of 2016, 19.2 million children relied on SNAP to help put food on the table at home. Many of these children also receive eligibility for free school meals thanks to their participation in the program. Unsurprisingly, research shows that SNAP participation is associated with reduced rates of food insecurity in children; we also know that SNAP keeps children from falling into poverty.
In many respects, SNAP is the first line of defense against food insecurity, even though benefits are often modest and do not always last through the entire month. The Farm Bill thus represents an important opportunity to strengthen SNAP—or, at the very least, protect it from harmful changes. The Conference Committee is tasked with reconciling two widely divergent nutrition titles. Unlike the Senate measure (S. 3042), the House farm bill (H.R. 2) would drastically harm SNAP by imposing burdensome work and documentation requirements on parents of school-aged children and changing eligibility standards. Child advocates are rightly opposed to these sweeping measures, which would result in an estimated 400,000 households losing SNAP and 265,000 children losing access to free school meals.
The Senate nutrition title, on the other hand, maintains access to SNAP for the many vulnerable families struggling to make ends meet. It makes improvements in program operations and makes it easier for elderly and disabled individuals to stay on the program, an especially helpful change given the skyrocketing number of children living with their grandparents due to the opioid crisis. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the Senate voted in favor of those provisions.
With 12.5 million children still experiencing food insecurity, maintaining their access to SNAP is as important as ever. By rejecting the House nutrition title in favor of the Senate’s, Farm Bill conferees have the opportunity to do just that.