Testimony of Maggie Andreoni, Research, Policy and Advocacy Associate at Hunger Free America
People’s Hearing on Health Care Before the Office of the Public Advocate for New York City
June 27, 2017
My name is Maggie Andreoni, and I am the Research, Policy, and Advocacy Associate at Hunger Free America. Formerly called the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Free America changed its name in 2016 to better reflect the broad scope of our national work. This was also accompanied with intensifying our local efforts under the new name, Hunger Free New York City.
I want to thank Public Advocate Letitia James for your work fighting on behalf of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, as well as for the opportunity to testify.
Both the House and Senate health care repeal/tax cut bills would hurt tens of millions of Americans by either taking away their health insurance entirely or reducing their quality of care. Here’s why those changes would increase domestic hunger significantly:
1) If struggling families were forced to spend more of their meager funds on health care, they would have even less money for food, making them even hungrier. In 2015, 42 million Americans lived in households suffering from food insecurity, unable to afford an adequate supply of food., according to USDA. People who lived in such households were able to spend only an average of $1.79 per meal, which forced them to skip or under-size their meals. If they had to spend more money on health care, that would further cut their food purchasing power.
2) Poor health hampers employment, which increases hunger. Americans with untreated or under-treated illnesses are less likely to be able to find and keep paid employment. People who are unemployed or under-employed are more likely to be hungry. Conversely, a study of low-income urban women found that “food secure women tended to have better employment and income outcomes than food insecure women.” Since people who are unemployed or under-employed are also less likely to heave health insurance, that makes them less healthy, and thus hungrier, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
3) Hungry Americans are already often unhealthy because of their lack of food. In 2014, 46.5 million people in the U.S., including 12 million children and 7 million seniors, were forced to use food pantries and soup kitchens, according to Feeding America. Of these Americans, nearly half reported that their health was “fair or poor.” Fully 58 percent of people in these households had high blood pressure and one third had diabetes. Of those hungry households with at least one child, 26 percent had a member in poor health; of those hungry households with at least one senior, 33 percent had a member in poor health.
4) Many hungry Americans already lack health insurance, and both bills would make the situation even worse. Of the 42 million Americans forced to use food pantries and soup kitchens in 2014, 29 percent lived in households in which no members had health insurance. In households without a child or senior citizen, 41 percent lacked health insurance. Yet 81 percent of households with at least one senior had health insurance, with many covered by Medicare and Medicaid, which would be deeply cut by both bills.
5) Increased out-of-pocket health care spending by struggling Americans would increase their health care debts, which would further make it difficult for them to afford food. Fully 55 percent of households forced to use food pantries and soup kitchens – and 65 percent such households with at least one child or senior – had medical debts in 2014. Many experts agree that the ACA helped cut the number of personal bankruptcies in half between 2010 and 2016.
6) The massive cuts in the bills will put further pressure on Congress to further slash anti-hunger safety net programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) and WIC. The Senate version of the bill cuts taxes by nearly $1 trillion, with 40 percent of savings going to the top 1 percent of earners and 64 percent going to the top 20 percent of earners. The House version contains similar tax cuts for the wealthy. Ever since the Reagan era, when massive tax cuts for the wealthy have been implemented, that has resulted in cuts in anti-hunger and other anti-poverty safety net programs. Cuts in the safety net directly result in increased hunger.