Nutrition assistance programs and Medicaid are sound investments for young kids

Nutrition assistance programs and Medicaid are sound investments for young kids
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The Senate Leadership budget proposal to increase the deficit to pay for tax cuts jeopardizes important resources that families with infants and toddlers need to keep their children healthy.

Tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations are once again eclipsing the needs of families struggling to put food on the table and access needed medical care for their children.  

As a pediatrician and health economist, we know the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid are like vaccines for very young children, keeping them and their families healthy today and in the future.

 

Yet, despite decades of evidence that these programs are very effective, Congress continues to take aim at them through proposed cuts and structural changes that would result in millions of children losing access to these life-sustaining programs.

Gabby, a child whom I treat in my clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, was healthy until an illness that caused severe seizures left her in a state of extreme disability. Her family was able to cope with this until her father had his work hours reduced and lost insurance during the Great Recession. Both Gabby’s and her father’s health worsened, further reducing their income, and the family needed to apply for SNAP, find emergency food assistance, and navigate other supportive infrastructures.

Once Gabby’s parents were able to apply for Medicaid (after Arkansas expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act), their health began to improve and Gabby’s father was able to re-enter the workforce. Had it not been for SNAP and Medicaid, this family would have had a prolonged time of health-harming hardships, which would have impacted Gabby’s growth and development and stifled her prospects for a brighter future.

Our research at Children’s HealthWatch has shown time and time again that children and their families, just like Gabby and her family, are healthier when they are able to afford food and needed health care without sacrificing other basic needs, such as paying for rent and utilities. From an economic perspective, reducing hardships and improving health saves us money.

We estimate that in 2014 alone, food insecurity — defined as the inability to afford enough food for all family members to lead active, healthy lives — cost our nation more than $160 billion in avoidable health-related costs. This is why federal nutrition programs like SNAP are important. They save our health system money without the need to rollback health coverage for people.

We need programs like SNAP and Medicaid to be stronger. Cuts to these programs will hurt every American. The future of our nation and our economy depend on the healthy growth and development of our nation’s youngest children.

Passing a budget that promotes opportunity for all children by ensuring adequate nutrition and access to health care — in addition to other crucial supports that help families live in stable homes and keep the heat and lights on — is imperative.

The proposed cuts and structural changes in the Republicans’ budget are hazardous to our nation’s present and future health. Those cuts will force hardworking parents to sacrifice their own and their children’s health, pitting basic needs like medication and food against each other. Cuts will mean that young children’s brains and bodies will not develop properly because they are deprived of the nutrition and health care necessary during this critical period of growth.

SNAP and Medicaid are smart, economically beneficial, pro-family investments that should not be compromised by a budget that seeks to fast-track tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and leaves families behind.

We know that, as a nation, we can do far better, and that we must not neglect or harm young children. Our youngest members of society depend on a strong fiscal future that ensures they have access to food and medical care they need to thrive. Trading our children’s health for yet more money to people and corporations who do not need it is bad economic policy, and morally bankrupt.

Eduardo Ochoa, MD, is a pediatrician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and  John Cook, PhD, is a health economist. Ochoa and Cook are principal investigators for Children’s HealthWatch