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SNAP cuts risky

Kids with special needs to suffer by Eddie Ochoa Special to the Democrat-Gazette | November 2, 2017 at 2:59 a.m.

I t should go without saying that no child deserves to go hungry.

But with the House of Representatives' recent vote to cut $150 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), it seems this is not a closed debate anymore. And that puts the 20 million children who currently participate in SNAP, or food stamps, at risk of going hungry.

As a pediatrician, I'm especially concerned because these cuts will hit hardest for the children I see on a daily basis: those living with special health-care needs--and their families.

It was clear from the first day of my residency that dealing with a child's illness is never easy. And when I began my fellowship at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, I realized that systemic problems like poverty and hunger make it even more difficult for families to meet their children's health-care needs. I continue to see over and over that treating an illness can seem easier than figuring out what to do about systemic problems.

That's why I became involved in Children's HealthWatch, where I help lead research on the relationship between challenges like food insecurity and children's health outcomes.

Unfortunately, many families across the country still struggle to afford nutritious food for their children. In Arkansas, we have one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country--and the proposed cuts to SNAP would make the problem even worse.

Our research indicates that families of children with special health-care needs are at significantly higher risk of food insecurity, which occurs when a family has to cut back on meals to make ends meet.

For pediatricians, these findings don't come as much of surprise. Families of children with health-care challenges often face higher medical, utility, and housing costs. Many also experience the loss of income from parents who must leave work to help care for the child.

Far too often, these families are forced to make tradeoffs between health-care expenses and other costs like food.

These tradeoffs between nutritional needs and immediate medical needs come at steep price in the long term. When young children--with or without special health needs--experience food insecurity, they face an increased risk of poor health outcomes, developmental delays, and increased hospitalizations.

Here in Arkansas, there are 54,000 households with members with disabilities who are participating in SNAP. And as a physician and researcher, I've seen firsthand that family-supporting programs like SNAP can help break this cycle.

I recently worked with a family whose child was left with chronic epilepsy and other complications following a catastrophic illness. At the same time, the parent who provided most of the family's income was reduced to part-time and lost health-care coverage due to their own chronic medical condition. Even with other family members still working, the family was quickly slipping into poverty.

Through support from our hospital, community agencies and programs like SNAP, the family didn't have to choose between either addressing their child's health care or keeping the lights on or food on the table.

As was this case for this family, SNAP is a critical piece of the picture for many of the children who come to us for treatment.

By helping families afford nutritious foods, SNAP improves child health and helps families balance additional costs related to their child's health-care needs. The program keeps 8 million people out of poverty, including thousands of children and families struggling to manage health crises and chronic conditions.

These people are my patients and members of your community.

We all benefit from programs like SNAP in the long run. SNAP is an effective solution to a systemic problem. Providing adequate nutrition early in a child's life helps lower taxpayer costs for special education and health-care services down the road--supports that are much more expensive than SNAP.

But when we cut programs like SNAP, there are ripple effects through a family's well-being that translate to costly hospitalizations and health challenges down the road.

Our elected leaders have an opportunity to stand up for children with special health needs and their families by rejecting any proposed cuts to SNAP or efforts to drastically change the program. The health and well-being of millions of children depend on it.


Dr. Eddie Ochoa is a pediatrician at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock and principal investigator for the Arkansas site of Children's HealthWatch.

Editorial on 11/02/2017

Print Headline: SNAP cuts risky


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