In order to affect health policy, public health students and professionals must reach out to elected officials to make our voices and opinions heard. One way to do this is to mail out a brief one-page letter stating the issue, reasons for supporting or opposing proposed legislation and a request for action. While form e-mails and petitions are also effective and less time consuming, a well thought out letter may stand out and even be brought to the legislator’s personal attention. It demonstrates that this constituent has a strong opinion about this issue (and that maybe the legislator should too).
Below is a letter I wrote urging a Congressperson to oppose budget cuts that would weaken SNAP benefits. Please feel free to use some or all of the letter to reach out to your respective elected officials regarding SNAP.
Dear Representative _____________,
I am writing to ask your continued support in protecting federal nutrition safety net programs, by opposing budget cuts that would weaken the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
According to the USDA, SNAP served over 45 million people (about 1 out of 7 Americans) in FY2011. In New York City alone, there are 1.8 million SNAP beneficiaries. SNAP is instrumental in not only combatting hunger, but also in improving the nutritional status of low-income people, especially children, the elderly and the disabled.
Farmers’ markets are increasingly accepting SNAP benefits and here in New York City (NYC), we have the largest city-operated SNAP incentive program in the nation, Health Bucks. For every 5 SNAP dollars spent at a farmers’ market using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), beneficiaries receive one Health Buck, equivalent to $2. According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Health Bucks as a SNAP incentive had a 93% redemption rate in 2011, increasing the consumption of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in SNAP recipients and increasing the income of local farmer. I am concerned that if budget cuts lead to less funding, the health-promoting Health Bucks program would be in jeopardy.
I urge you to speak out against any measure that would weaken SNAP and put 1.8 million New Yorkers at increased risk for food insecurity and malnutrition. Please emphasize to other members of Congress and your constituents that SNAP is not just a benefit, it is a necessity in the fight against hunger and chronic disease. It is a necessity for the economic health of the entire food system, including the food industry, American agriculture, food retailers and overwhelmed community-based organizations that already struggle with emergency food provision.