LETTER: Congressman Coffman must protect kids’ health in the 2018 Farm Bill

EDITOR: One in six Colorado kids don’t always know where their next meal will come from. This stress is something no child should have to face, especially in their earliest, most formative years. When kids go hungry or get by on poor-quality foods, they are more likely to get sick, be hospitalized more often, recover from illness more slowly, and struggle with learning and behavior in school and at home.
Fortunately, we can tackle many costly and often life-long health problems by preventing them before they start. To do so, we must look beyond the walls of our medical practices and into the community, because health starts where we live, learn, eat and play.
As pediatricians, we understand that access to adequate nutrition is vital throughout life. That’s especially true for our youngest Coloradans, where a strong start can help build healthy communities, a strong workforce, and a thriving economy for generations to come.
Last month, the U.S. House rejected sweeping draft farm bill legislation, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act (H.R. 2), which proposed cuts in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger for over 42 million Americans nationally, including about 475,000 Coloradans, according to the USDA (2016).
The largest domestic anti-hunger program, SNAP is considered by Congress alongside other federal agriculture programs as part of the farm bill, which is due for reauthorization this year.
Congressman Mike Coffman, our local representative here in Aurora, voted “yes” on the failed H.R. 2, which pushed for nearly $20 billion in cuts to SNAP benefits over a decade—cuts translating to roughly 1.2 million fewer individuals eligible for the program, including those in families with children.
The bill proposes changes to SNAP work requirements that would undermine the program’s effectiveness by reducing or eliminating access to SNAP benefits for some, threatening the health and wellbeing of low-income families most of whom are already working, often in low-wage and unsteady jobs.
Furthermore, the proposed elimination of categorical eligibility in the House bill would have put healthy food out of reach for many hard-working Colorado families and their children. Categorical eligibility is a vital tool that states use to adjust the income limit for SNAP benefits, to prevent working families from losing their benefits when they earn slightly more than the federal income cutoff.
Colorado cannot afford to lag further behind when we currently rank 45th among states for SNAP enrollment of eligible individuals.
While we are glad to have seen the House’s farm bill voted down, we understand another vote on the same measure is forthcoming. When it returns to the House floor later this month, we urge Congressman Coffman to vote “no.”
Instead, the Congressman should throw his support behind a bill that more closely resembles the  longstanding bipartisan tradition of previous farm bills by avoiding major cuts and changes to SNAP. A vote for a harmful farm bill would be a step backwards for families in Aurora, many of whom we have seen in our clinical practice, and for our state.
The partisan food fight over SNAP in the House farm bill threatens the health of millions. At a time when Congress is paying close attention to cutting costs, we should remember that providing children healthy food offers a high return on investment for generations to come. Food is the fuel we all need for our bodies and minds, so we can be productive members of society. SNAP works, plain and simple, and it is a worthwhile investment in the future of our country.
— Christina Suh, MD, and Sandra Hoyt Stenmark, MD via [email protected]