Washington, D.C.– Nutrition must be a top priority of SNAP—the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called Food Stamps. That’s the message of a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s SNAP Task Force, as Congress prepares to reauthorize the program in the 2018 Farm Bill. To do this, the task force recommends eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages from SNAP benefits, incentivizing fruits and vegetable purchasing; better coordinating SNAP and Medicaid to improve health outcomes; creating a more robust SNAP-Education program; and strengthening SNAP retailer standards to improve the food environment for all shoppers.
BPC’s report, Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health, was a nine-month effort by a 13-member task force led by three co-chairs: BPC senior fellow and former Senate majority Leader Bill Frist, MD; BPC senior fellow and former secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman; and former secretary of agriculture Ann M. Veneman.
The goal of the task force was to find bipartisan ways to strengthen and protect this essential anti-poverty program that serves over 40 million Americans every month. Through the years, the program has been incredibly successful at reducing food insecurity. However, research shows that individuals receiving SNAP benefits have slightly less healthy diets than other low-income Americans. With obesity rates and health care costs on the rise in the United States, the report emphasizes it is imperative that nutrition be a strong focus in SNAP.
“Today, our nation faces high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases like diabetes that cause horrendous medical problems,” said Glickman. “There is an abundance of scientific and medical literature indicating that sweet and sugary beverages are uniquely harmful to one’s health. Because federal tax dollars are used for SNAP, we believe it’s appropriate to discourage SNAP recipients from consuming these beverages to improve their health outcomes.”
“We believe our recommendations to align SNAP and Medicaid could be a real game changer in improving health and lowering health care costs in our country,” said Frist. “More than 60 percent of adults on Medicaid receive SNAP benefits and studies show SNAP recipients have poorer diets compared to those not in the program. It just makes sense to better coordinate these programs on the federal and state level.”
“These recommendations won’t be the panacea for America’s health and obesity crisis,” said Veneman. “But they are actionable first steps that will strengthen SNAP, encourage more nutritious eating, promote better health, and in the long run, help reduce health care costs for participants of the program.”
BPC developed these recommendations with input from leaders across more than 50 different organizations, including state, federal, and local program administrators; health, anti-hunger, and anti-poverty advocates; food and beverage producers, manufacturers, retailers, and associations; and academic researchers.
“Taken together, these bipartisan recommendations can begin the critical process of aligning food and health care programs across the federal government to improve our nation’s health,” said registered dietitian and BPC senior policy analyst Hannah Martin.
SNAP Task force members include health, public health, and social service policy experts and administrators:
Mariana Chilton, Ph.D., MPH, Professor, Drexel University; former National Commission on Hunger co-chair
Dan Crippen, Ph.D, former National Governors Association executive director and former CBO director
Dr. Karen DeSalvo, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health; former director New Orleans Health Department
Dave Krepcho, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida
Dr. Kara Odom Walker, Secretary, Delaware Department of Health and Social Services
Angela Rachidi, Ph.D, Research Fellow, AEI; former SNAP administrator
Dr. John Wernert, former Secretary, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration
Richard Whitley, Director, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services
Laurie Whitsel, Ph.D, Director of Policy Research, American Heart Association
Norbert Wilson, Ph.D, Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University