From: Beth Forkner Moe
Executive Director, United Way of the Greater Winona Area
People may have heard that Congress is currently debating the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill, which needs to be re-authorized every five years, sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy. One of the important provisions in the bill is that of providing food assistance to vulnerable people. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is set to be decreased.
This possibility concerns us. SNAP is a way to help low-income people make ends meet and to have access to nutritious food. People rely on it to stretch their food dollars and make sure they have enough to eat. Additionally, it provides direct support to the community, since food benefits are used in local grocery stores.
Statewide, more than 540,000 people receive SNAP; the average benefit is $116 a month. People eligible for SNAP cannot earn more than 130% of the poverty threshold, or $29,976 for a family of four.
In Winona County alone, 3,289 people (in April, the latest month of data available) are enrolled in SNAP. Of those 1,207 are children. The rest are adults, including elderly, disabled and those caring for children. Many of the adults have jobs, especially in families where there are also children.
The proposed cuts to SNAP have the potential to negatively impact our community for decades. Research shows that babies and toddlers from low-income families who are already at developmental risk due to poverty are put at additional development risk by food insecurity. The first three years of life are a time of rapid brain growth with unique potential for learning and development; food insecurity is known to be associated with poor health in the first three years of life and beyond.
A child’s early years are a crucial period for creating the basis for future academic achievement and workforce participation. The chances of becoming a healthy, productive adult are significantly affected by deprivation in the first three years of life. Children who start school already behind are likely to stay behind throughout their education and are more likely to drop out of high school. A person who does not graduate from high school earns about 30 percent less during their lifetime than those who have at least a high school diploma.
Without the availability of food during their earliest years, children in poverty have an increased risk of developmental delays, which leads to difficulty in school and limited work opportunities later, continuing the cycle of poverty.
Our mission at United Way is to “support our families in their efforts to raise healthy, thriving, productive children in our community.” One way to do this is to ensure that our children all have access to enough food. Please join us in talking to our elected officials about the importance of food support for our children and other vulnerable people in our community.