Hunger in Colorado and Why Programs like Food Stamps Matter

Everyone is at their best when they have enough to eat, but there are many life storms that make it difficult for Coloradans to afford healthy food. Having enough food supports the foundation for optimal health and well-being throughout our lifecycle. Nutritious food helps develop babies’ brains and bodies,  gives kids the energy to excel in and out of school, reduces the risk of chronic diseases in adults, and keeps seniors stable and independent.

Yet, nearly 1 in 8 Coloradans struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table, whether due to a job loss, health issue, minimum-wage job or another misfortune. It’s estimated that about 1 in 5 kids and 1 in 8 Colorado seniors don’t know when or where they will get their next meal. (Read more facts.)

Hunger affects too many in our great state; you may have family members, neighbors, co-workers and friends who don’t always have enough money to afford food. On a tight budget, people often have to choose between paying rent or buying needed medications instead of purchasing groceries. They may have to turn to already-strained food pantries and faith-based groups distributing emergency food, just to make ends meet.

Just as constructing a solid house requires a variety of materials, building well-being requires community resources like access to healthy, affordable food. When materials are cheap or not even available, the foundation is not as strong as it could be and soon may develop cracks. Similarly, nutritious food is one of those key materials for all people, and without it, we may have difficulty weathering life’s storms.

Federal nutrition programs, along with state and local counterparts, play an important role in connecting people of all ages, backgrounds and zip codes to needed food. By working together and supporting people throughout their lives, we can ensure everyone reaches their potential, which benefits all of us.

 


PlateHunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts a person’s health and can be a culprit of obesity, acute and chronic illnesses, and other medical concerns. When we don’t address the issue on the front end through programs like food stamps, we end up footing the bill for preventable conditions in the future. Hunger hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child’s overall well-being and academic achievement, but swallowing an adult’s ability to full contribute and reach their potential.

Even those who have never worried about buying food experience the ripple effect of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state’s economy.


Money-bagCommunity-based programs and organizations cannot solve hunger alone. The federal government, along with its state and local counterparts, play an important role in ensuring children, adults and seniors don’t have to worry about when or where they will get their next meal. It’s estimated that federal nutrition programs fund over 20 times as much food assistance as private charitable sources (per Bread for the World), so it would be impossible for the already-strained food pantries, faith-based groups and other community organizations to fill that gap completely.

Food pantries, faith-based groups and other community-based organizations often act as the “first responders” when people experience an unexpected life storm, but they do not have the capacity to feed every person. Such a shift would lead to even more Americans experiencing hunger; thus, having an even larger ripple effect with impacts on individual health and well-being, education and productivity, and our state’s and nation’s economy.


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Cuts to food stamps would not provide noticeable savings to taxpayers and, instead, hurt working families, children, veterans and seniors—and weaken our communities. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) only makes up a tiny portion—about 2%—of the annual federal budget. Budget slashes or changes would make hunger worse, with the ripple effect being felt across the state and nation. More working families could have to choose to pay rent instead of buying food; a senior on a fixed income may wonder how they’ll pay for needed medication and food that helps control their diabetes; and more kids would go to school hungry, inhibiting their ability to succeed in the classroom and life.

Food-Stamps-Support-ColoradansFood stamps support retailers and our state’s economy. In Colorado, food stamps helped create 71,985 jobs between 2008 and 2012, and it generated an estimated $3.1 billion in federal funding for Colorado retailers, including grocery stores and farmers markets, in the past five years. Further, every $1 increase in food stamp benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity, boosting our state’s economic health. Simply put, food stamps makes dollars and sense for Colorado.

Food stamps invest in our residents and communities. The program offers reinforcement for Coloradans of all ages, backgrounds and zip codes when an unexpected life storm hits. Protecting and strengthening the program would be an investment in better, healthier lives and stronger, thriving Colorado communities.


Food-Stamps-RecipientsFood stamps helps those who are in need, whether due to a job loss, health issue, minimum-wage job or misfortune in life. About 1 in 11 Coloradans use food stamps, including hard-working families, children, seniors, veterans and those who are disabled. According to a recent USDA Program Access Index, about 3 in 5 eligible households (59%) actually utilize the nutrition support, meaning too many Coloradans who are striving for a better, brighter future continue to lack the fuel needed for stronger bodies and minds.

National food stamp participation did grow during the Great Recession, responding quickly and effectively to increased unemployment and poverty as it should. As the economy slowly improves, the national participation rate has begun to drop. Yet, it’s estimated about 1 in 7 Coloradans live in poverty. (See more hunger and poverty facts.) This shows the larger issue—that there are too many people living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet and put nutritious food on their tables.


Food stamps create opportunity and help ensure that all can enjoy a stable, prosperous future. About 255,000 Coloradans, including 130,000 children, saw their financial well-being and situation improve between 2009 and 2013, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They also estimate that food stamps helped 3.7 million Americans, including 1.5 million children, not struggle as much financially, putting them above the federal poverty line in 2013.

ClockThose who are struggling financially can turn to food stamps for reinforcement. Most Colorado families and individuals, on average, only use food stamps for 11 months, according to the USDA. And, a majority of able-bodied recipients in Colorado work, and those unable to work—more than 300,000 children, seniors and individuals who are disabled—are the ones benefiting most from the program.

Our future prosperity depends up on the social and economic strength of all communities in Colorado.


Shopping-Cart-Food-IconColoradans utilizing food stamps, on average, only receive about $1.40 per meal, which equates to $4.20 per day or $29.40 per week. No one should have to worry about when or where they will get their next meal, and food stamps help families and individuals purchase groceries, giving them access to the fuel needed for their health and well-being.

Every dollar matters to those trying to make ends meet, and food stamps serve as a lifeline for families who are living paycheck to paycheck. For some, food stamps may be all that they have to buy groceries due to their wages needing to cover other basics like rent, electricity, transportation, child care and medications. For others, it may allow them to purchase more nutritious foods or food recommended by their doctor to mitigate diseases such as diabetes or hypertension that, otherwise, they could not afford.


Shopping-CartThose seeking assistance must undergo a rigorous application process and abide by benefit use. Colorado families and individuals must complete a detailed application process, which requires verification and determines their qualification for benefits and monthly allotment based on household size, wages, assets and other factors. For example, your household’s gross income cannot exceed 130% of the federal poverty guideline, which is just over $31,000 per year for a family of four. After completing the application, they must interview with their county Department of Human Services to determine if they qualify and are approved.

Participating households receive their food stamp benefits on a monthly basis, which are automatically loaded onto a Quest Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, much like a credit card. For food assistance, EBT cards can be used at authorized food retailers, such as grocers, convenience stores and a growing number of farmers markets, for non-prepared food purchases only. The spent funds are deducted after purchase, and recipients cannot exceed their monthly allotment since the funds are preloaded.

Food stamp recipients cannot purchase toiletries, diapers, alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana or other non-food items with their food assistance benefits, nor can they be used at an ATM for cash withdrawal.


The national program is quite efficient. About 93 cents of every federal dollar for food stamps goes into benefits, which far exceeds other government programs. Further, the fraud/abuse rate for food stamps, nationally, is about 1%.Check-mark

Accountability is key for all public and private programs that serve people, and food stamps has a strong record of program integrity, with historically low error and trafficking rates. “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


Federal nutrition programs, like food stamps, have been shown to play a role in supporting health and well-being. And, many use their food stamp benefits to purchase milk, bananas, bread and other staples.Food-Stamps-Fuel

In terms of research, recent national studies show that food stamps do increase food security amongst families, meaning there’s access to food needed to thrive, and other studies reveal how benefits can increase a household’s overall dietary quality, as well as provide long-term health outcomes for children, in addition to increased levels of essential vitamins and minerals. A study of WIC revealed that it boosts childhood health and development. You also can learn more about the relationship between obesity and hunger via the Food Research Action Center.