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James M.
Democrat MA 2

About Rep. James
  • The Costly Problem of Hunger

    by Representative James P. McGovern

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, we live in the richest country in the history of the world, and yet hunger is a problem in the United States of America--a very costly problem. A recent report published in the journal ``Health Affairs'' shows that poor people are getting sick because they are running out of food at the end of the month. Hunger increases the likelihood that people will get other ailments. Specifically, this analysis shows that poverty and exhausted food budgets may be a reason for increased health risk due to dangerously low blood sugar. We know that poor families prioritize which bills they pay and that food--grocery bills--often fall behind other responsibilities like rent and utilities.

    I will include for the Record an article from The New York Times entitled ``Study Ties Diabetic Crises to Dip in Food Budgets.'' Mr. Speaker, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty. One of the programs that is key in this war on poverty--in our attempts to reduce and eliminate income inequality--is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Act, or SNAP--formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is a lifeline for 47 million Americans; 47 million of our fellow citizens rely on this program to help put food on the table for their families. But SNAP has become a major target in this Congress by those who believe it is simply a government handout.

    SNAP is many things, but it is not a poorly run government handout. To the contrary, it is a program that is among the most efficient and effective, if not the most efficient and effective, of Federal programs. Despite this fact and despite the fact that millions of Americans turn to SNAP precisely because they saw their incomes drop or disappear because of the recession, SNAP was cut by $11 billion on November 1, 2013. And on top of that, we are told that the farm bill that is still in negotiation would cut another $8.5 billion to $9 billion above that November 1 cut.

    These cuts have real impacts. Some families who already saw a cut of $30 a month on November 1 will see their SNAP benefit cut by another $90 a month if the farm bill passes with these cuts. That is a cut of $120 a month for a family of three in a State like California or Massachusetts or New York, for example.

    According to a study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust, a cut of $2 billion a year in food stamps could trigger an increase in $15 billion in medical costs for diabetes over the next decade. The insistence of many in this Congress-- Republicans, and I'm sad to say some Democrats--that SNAP be cut, will have serious, long-term impacts on the health of poor people who are just trying to get by, and any cuts will cost us more. They will save us nothing.

    Being poor is hard. It is expensive. We shouldn't be making the lives of those who struggle with poverty even harder by cutting safety net programs like SNAP. We should not be making poor people sicker because we want to cut Federal spending on SNAP while increasing spending for the Defense Department or giving corporate welfare in the form of crop insurance or other farm subsidies. Many of these excesses are contained in the farm bill that we may see in the next couple of weeks.

    I oppose the SNAP cuts included in the farm bill. They are misguided, they are hurtful, and they are wrong. They will do real damage to real people who just want to earn a paycheck and provide for their families. I urge my colleagues to stand with me and oppose this farm bill if, in fact, it contains these $8 billion to $9 billion in cuts in SNAP. I would remind my colleagues that behind all these numbers and behind all the statistics and behind all the rhetoric, there are real people.

    {time} 1015 These cuts that have already been made actually hurt people. Let's not pile on. Antihunger advocates have warned that further cuts to SNAP will [[Page H231]] increase hunger in America. Go to any food bank in America; they are at capacity right now. Leading economists have told us that further cuts to SNAP will undermine the economy. SNAP is actually a stimulus. People who get SNAP have to spend it on food, and it helps our economy grow. Doctors and medical researchers have documented time and time again with a gazillion studies that further cuts to SNAP will cause avoidable health care costs to millions of our fellow citizens.

    Sometimes I wonder when we have these debates is if anybody is paying attention. My question to this Congress is: Is anybody listening? Why would anybody cut this program more and more and more and more? Why are so many in this Chamber so indifferent to this problem that affects close to 50 million of our fellow citizens? I plead with my colleagues to say ``no'' to any further SNAP cuts, and I appeal to this administration to work with Congress to develop a plan so that nobody in this country goes hungry. The silence on this issue in this Congress and in this administration is sad, and it is a missed opportunity to do something meaningful and positive for millions of our fellow citizens. We can do more. We can do better. We can end hunger now, but not by coldly, callously, and arbitrarily cutting SNAP.

    [From the New York Times, Jan. 6, 2014] Study Ties Diabetic Crises to Dip in Food Budgets (By Sabrina Tavernise) Poor people with diabetes are significantly more likely to go to the hospital for dangerously low blood sugar at the end of the month when food budgets are tight than at the beginning of the month, a new study has found.

    Researchers found no increase in such hospitalizations among higher-income people for the condition known as hypoglycemia, suggesting that poverty and exhausted food budgets may be a reason for the increased health risk.

    Hypoglycemia occurs when people with diabetes have not had enough to eat, but continue taking medications for the disease. To control diabetes, patients need to keep their blood sugar within a narrow band. Levels that are too low or too high (known as hyperglycemia) can be dangerous.

    Researchers found a clear pattern among low-income people: Hospital admissions for hypoglycemia were 27 percent higher at the end of the month than at the beginning. Researchers said they could not prove that the patients' economic circumstances were the reason for the admission, but the two things were highly correlated.

    The study, published online Monday in the journal Health Affairs, comes as Congress continues to debate legislation that includes the food stamp program for poor Americans. House Republicans are advocating $40 billion in cuts to the program, a step that Democrats oppose.

    About 25 million Americans, or 8 percent of the population, have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The poor are disproportionately affected. The United States spends more than $100 billion a year treating people with the disease, the agency estimates.

    Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, matched hospital discharge records from 2000 to 2008 on more than two million people in California with those patients' ZIP codes. People living in the poorest ZIP codes, where average annual household income was below $31,000, were counted as low income.

    The researchers then examined cases of patients admitted for hypoglycemia. The symptoms include dizziness, sweating or nausea. In rare cases, hypoglycemia can cause death.

    For each 100,000 admissions of poor people, about 270 of them were given a primary diagnosis of hypoglycemia, more than the 200 per 100,000 among people of higher incomes. Dr. Hilary Seligman, assistant professor of medicine at U.C.S.F., and the study's lead author, said the difference was statistically significant.

    Dr. Seligman said that she and her colleagues, aware of the debate about food stamps, sought to document whether running out of food stamps or money to buy food at the end of the month damaged people's health. Previous research had already established that people often give a higher priority to paying monthly bills for rent or utilities, for example, than to buying food, which is managed from day to day.

    ``People who work minimum wage jobs or live on benefits often have this typical pay cycle pattern,'' Dr. Seligman said. ``We wanted to examine whether there were adverse health consequences to running out of money at the end of the month.'' Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University who was not involved in the study, said the findings were persuasive.

    ``The patterns here are significant,'' she said. ``The researchers obviously can't say if food deprivation was the definitive triggering event, but the findings show a strong association between lack of food and adverse health consequences.'' ____________________

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