Our Turn: Food stamp bill is bad for New Hampshire families

For the Monitor
Saturday, April 15, 2017

As family physicians, we witness first-hand how critical nutrition is during infancy and early childhood to the development and growth of healthy children.

Without enough nutritious food, children can experience deficits in cognitive development, as well as behavioral and emotional problems. One of our patients was struggling to pay attention in school and was acting up at times. Her teachers wondered if she had ADHD. It turns out she was skipping breakfast. Once breakfast became a part of her daily routine, her attention and grades improved. Having access to good nutritious food helped put her on the path to success.

There is currently a bill (Senate Bill 7) working its way through the state Legislature that could eliminate food stamps for 17,000 New Hampshire families – hitting a program that only delivers needed food assistance to adults with children. That means taking food off their tables and kids not getting adequate nutrition. Research shows us, “Adults who had access to food stamps as young children reported better health and had lower rates of . . . obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.”

Before we get into the details of why SB 7 is bad for New Hampshire, we would like to address some misconceptions about food stamps – facts we did not always know:

1) Food stamps can only be used to purchase food. Even necessities like diapers and toilet paper are off limits.

2) Working families are most likely to lose benefits under SB 7. SB 7 takes help away from “working poor” families who can’t make ends meet because of the high costs for basic needs like housing, utilities and childcare.

3) If you are concerned that those applying who don’t meet criteria or truly “need” it, only 1 percent of applications are deemed fraudulent, and SB 7 doesn’t even address that anyway.

4) New Hampshire is very targeted in its approach to food stamps and actually has the lowest average food stamp benefit per person and per household in the country.

Knowing these facts, and knowing the adverse and long-term impacts SB 7 would have on the health of our children should be reason enough to oppose SB 7.

However, there is one very important argument for those who may not be convinced yet: This bill will not save the state any money, and would in fact increase our expenses in New Hampshire.

The federal government pays 100 percent for food stamps. Administrative costs are split 50/50 between the state and the federal government, and SB 7’s changes to the eligibility system would require an increase in state administrative costs.

SB 7 will also put more pressure on cities, towns and nonprofits to try to meet the nutritional needs of those 17,000 families. As families are forced to choose between things like food and heat, they will turn to local welfare and food pantries, and where they do not exist or cannot meet the need, the after-effects of hunger will surface: increases in anemia, heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes and more, not to mention the social consequences.

If you still aren’t convinced that this bill is wrong for New Hampshire, consider the positive impact the food stamp program has on children like our patients who are having a hard time in school simply because they are hungry.

(P. Travis Harker is past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society and a family doctor practicing in Concord. Doug Phelan is a family doctor practicing in Concord.)