Letters: Callous Farm Bill cuts force 'heat or eat' choice

Posted: February 04, 2014

WHEN THE House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill last Wednesday, they demonstrated that they are blind to the reality of hunger and poverty in America. They fail to account for the human consequences of the massive $8.6 billion cut to SNAP, also known as food stamps. This cut will impact more than 850,000 households nationwide.

Every day, we see firsthand the impossible trade-offs that parents make to survive. Our research with Philadelphia families, in their homes and in the emergency room at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, shows undeniable evidence that families have to choose between paying their rent and utilities or feeding their families. Families describe how they cannot afford heating costs, so they heat their homes with their stoves in the winter. Not only can this trade-off cause life-threatening fires, but it can't keep kids warm enough, putting them at risk for hospitalization with upper respiratory infections and other preventable illnesses. Pediatricians spotted these trade-offs years ago, calling it the "heat or eat" syndrome.

Years ago, I worked with colleagues and other health professionals to convince the state to adopt SNAP's "heat and eat" provision. It was a health-promoting move for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable families supported by scientific evidence that SNAP promotes health, strengthens the economy and helps children grow up smarter.

Last week, when the House of Representatives voted to cut that "heat and eat" provision in SNAP, they made a trade-off at the expense of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable families. Some leaders are celebrating crumblike wins in the areas of fresh-food financing and SNAP education, in spite of this significant cut to food stamps.

These are not wins. Families will now have less money to buy fresh food or follow through on well-meaning nutrition-education programs. Passing the Farm Bill was an ugly trade-off that, according to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, will cause 175,000 Pennsylvanian households to lose, on average, $65 for food each month.

These cuts don't just hurt the families that receive SNAP. They also mean lost jobs and lost revenue for Pennsylvania's economy. Every dollar of food stamps generates $1.72 in the local economy. Pennsylvania will thus lose $235 million a year in SNAP-generated revenue that keeps businesses and stores open and our people employed.

Clearly, the House of Representatives made its decision in spite of scientific evidence and its responsibility to its people. Let's hope the U.S. Senate makes a wiser choice.


Mariana Chilton, an associate professor at Drexel University School of Public Health, is the director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and founder of Witnesses to Hunger.

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