Sunday, September 27, 2020

Guest Blogger: Lisa Pino “SNAP for a Healthy America”

Lisa pumpkin photo (2)As this year marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death, we are grateful for his contribution to our country’s nutritional safety net, the USDA SNAP program. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Food Stamps in 1939 to combat the Great Depression, President Kennedy revived the program in 1961 by developing a pilot program. As the former USDA Deputy Administrator of SNAP, I share that SNAP still provides a critical safety net for 49 million food insecure Americans. Today, we need SNAP and our other fourteen USDA nutrition assistance programs as millions of Americans still struggle to put food on the table.

But it’s almost January, and the clock is ticking.

Unless Congress passes a Food, Farm, and Jobs bill by the end of 2013, America will resort to permanent legislation enacted in 1939 and 1949. America needs a Farm Bill, and we need one now. Not only do food insecure Americans deserve a Farm Bill, but American agriculture deserves better. Our American farmers, growers, and producers rely on its funding, and so do we as consumers. Our children deserve a Farm Bill, and so does our economy and the environment. As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has stated, the Farm Bill is also a Jobs Bill. The legislation preserves the many jobs involved in our agriculture and food system, and helps our economy.

All Americans deserve access to healthy, affordable, food, and no one should go hungry in America. Nevertheless, hunger happens every day in the U.S., is often invisible, and is paradoxically intertwined with obesity. Currently 40% of Latino children are overweight or obese. Obesity already costs us $157 billion per year. If projections prove correct, half of the Latino children born in the year 2000 or later will develop Type 2 diabetes. When the link between food insecurity and obesity is this fragile, these trends reflect a risk that we can longer afford to take.

For Latinos, SNAP and USDA’s other safety net programs like WIC and National School Meals are vital for the community’s health. Half of SNAP’s 47 million clients live in households with children. Half of the 4.3 million babies born in the U.S. each year participate in the WIC program. As the youngest demographic in the country that lost the greatest amount of wealth during the recession, Latinos are highly vulnerable to hunger and obesity. This correlation is vital as hunger is often a symptom of poverty.

If these poverty and hunger trends continue, we must ask whether we can afford this public health crisis. The Farm Bill can mitigate our health needs by preserving SNAP and public access to food security. Aside from the health costs that these hunger trends illustrate, we must ask whether we can afford the related academic, behavioral, economic, and environmental problems that such pressures create for our children.

We must act, and we must act quickly. America deserves a Farm Bill, and we need a bill that preserves our USDA nutrition assistance programs as much as possible.

As the holiday season arrives, families gather around kitchens and dining rooms to eat, celebrate, reunite, and give thanks. This year, please remember those who may not have these opportunities. Volunteer or donate to your local food bank. Think of what you can do for one family member, friend, neighbor, child, veteran, senior, or member of the working poor. Share a meal. Shop from a local farmer. Save food instead of throwing away waste. Develop a food drive. And tell Congress that they can save SNAP by restoring funding in a successful Farm Bill. Together, by preserving the Farm Bill, we can save American food security, jobs, agriculture, and our nation’s health. The stability that SNAP brings is needed for the one in six Americans who deserve a chance to make their life better despite the increasing odds.

And then maybe, just maybe, we can soon give thanks for our new Farm Bill.

Lisa J. Pino was appointed in November, 2013 as President and CEO of the United Food Bank of Arizona, a Feeding America food bank member that annually distributes 22 million pounds and feeds 900,00 Arizonans in need. Prior to this role, she was USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights (2012-2013) and USDA Food and Nutrition Service Deputy Administrator of SNAP (2009-2012) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ms. Pino joined USDA in May, 2009 upon her appointment by President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Pino is a New York native, member of the Arizona State Bar Association, and received her B.A., M.A., and J.D. from Arizona State University. Her passion for ending hunger and obesity and for building healthy, sustainable communities has brought her back to serve in Arizona.