Better Nutrition Programs

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Malnutrion is a very bad thing, with deleterious consequences for individuals and devastating social consequences when it afflicts children. But fortunately, food is pretty cheap. Consequently, there’s really no reason why a rich society like ours needs to be afflicted by this problem at all. But as Joel Berg details in a new CAP report, even though America’s existing nutrition assistance programs are largely effective (with much lower overhead costs than, for example, private food banks) they’re not as good as they could be:

The current safety net is a confusing array of programs, with 15 different nutrition assistance programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture alone, each of which have different eligibility requirements, application procedures, and physical locations that people must visit to apply. This system requires far-reaching bureaucracies and vast mountains of paperwork to administer, discouraging many low-income Americans from seeking the benefits they are entitled to, and costing the government billions of dollars in unnecessary administrative costs. Meanwhile, antifraud measures, inspired more by misguided fears than actual evidence of widespread cheating, cost the government more to implement than they save.

There is a far better way. This paper reiterates a previous proposal for the federal government to combine all these programs into one streamlined, seamless entitlement program available to all families at 185 percent of the poverty line or below. This means any family of three with a yearly income below $33,873 would be eligible. My colleague, Thomas Z. Freedman, suggested calling this idea the “American Family Food, Opportunity, and Responsibility” program, or AFFORD.

Those fifteen programs don’t even include nutrition programs for seniors run by HHS or the Emergency Food and Shelter Program run by the Department of Homeland Security. By consolidating programs and simplifying eligibility requirements you can (a) reduce hassle and make it easier for families to get help they need, and (b) reduce spending on administration and maximize the amount of help that’s delivered. It’s become faddish to talk about improving school lunches, which is a good idea, but just one piece of a fairly large federal nutrition program puzzle.