Senator Booker states his support for expanding Good Food Bucks and SNAP Nutrition Incentive Programs. Senator Cory Booker hosted a Senate Ag Committee today, “Food as Medicine: Current Efforts and Potential Opportunities” and threw his enthusiastic support behind increasing funding for SNAP Nutrition Incentive programs through the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. The Senator told a story about farmers’ market customers he met in Newark and how by using Good Food Bucks to purchase fresh more fruits and vegetables, they improved their health and wellness. City Green welcomes this exciting development and strong statement of support for the expansion of Good Food Bucks and all GusNIP programs!
Watch “Food as Medicine: Current Efforts and Potential Opportunities” Senate Agriculture Hearing here. This hearing, hosted by Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research, also features Mr. Martin Richards, Ms. Leah Penniman, Dr. John Bulger, Dr. Kevin Volpp, and Dr. Bob Chestnut.
Read Senator Booker's entire statement below, delivered December 13th, 2022
Good morning. I want to begin by thanking my partner on this subcommittee, Senator Braun, for his work bringing this hearing together. And I also want to acknowledge the witnesses before us who have graciously lent us their time.
When Senator Braun and I held our first subcommittee hearing last year, we focused on the nutrition crisis that our country is facing, and I want to start today by reminding our audience of the scale of the crisis and the explosion of diet-related diseases that we have seen in recent decades:
Currently in the United States, half of our population is pre-diabetic or has type-2 diabetes.
Every month, diabetes causes 13,000 new amputations; 5,000 new cases of kidney failure; and 2,000 new cases of blindness in our country.
And this isn’t something that is exclusively affecting older people. We are seeing growing rates of diabetes in our youth as well–one quarter of our teenagers today are pre-diabetic or have type-2 diabetes. Much of that can be attributed to the alarming fact that ultra-processed foods now comprise ⅔ of the calories in the diets of children and teens. It’s estimated that half of all children today will be obese by the time they are 35 years old. Broadly speaking, diet related chronic diseases are now the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the FDA, an average of 2,700 people die per day from diet related diseases. And the effects of diet-related diseases are not limited to the healthcare field. They are also causing an economic crisis that is spiraling out of control. Nearly one out of every three dollars in the federal budget now goes toward healthcare spending. In five years, the health care costs of Type-2 diabetes alone have risen 25% to a staggering $237 billion dollars. This is simply not sustainable long-term.
Right now, it is imperative that we embark on a whole-of-government approach to address diet-related diseases. And one of the most promising solutions that we can adopt is something that is alluded to in the two thousand year old writings of Hippocrates, and is rooted in the practices of many indigenous communities. It is the idea that the food we eat is intrinsically tied to our health; the growing recognition that food can act as medicine. Researchers, healthcare professionals, farmers and policymakers across the country are already putting this idea into practice and seeing successes.
Let me take you back in time: when I was Mayor of Newark, one of the challenges we faced was the fact that many communities in the city were food deserts, places where residents did not have access to healthy, nutritious food. We did many different things to address this, including starting to grow more fruits and vegetables and distribute them locally. One of our projects was the creation of the largest urban farm in New Jersey, a multi-acre farm on an entire city block in a low income neighborhood. I recently went back and visited that farm, and while there, met two women who told me their stories. The first woman told me that she had been having gastrointestinal issues. For treatment, she was paying a $100 per month co-pay for medication. The federal government took on the remaining $600 of the cost. She was able to change her diet by taking advantage of the GusNIP program run through the New Jersey-based non-profit City Green, which allowed her to double her SNAP benefits for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. When this woman used the GusNIP program at the community farm to incorporate substantially more fruits and vegetables into her diet, she saw her gut health issue disappear. The second woman was in her 80s and had been diabetic. After she began to source the majority of her food from the farm, she told me that her diabetes went away.
And those two stories are not anomalies -- we will hear today from our witnesses about how Food as Medicine programs can be transformative for the health of the individuals and families receiving the healthy food. We will also hear how these programs can lead to healthcare cost savings. Finally, our witnesses will testify how programs like GusNIP double bucks and produce prescriptions can be transformative economic opportunities for family farmers across our country. These investments are enabling farmers to grow healthy food for their neighbors and are helping to build resilient local and regional food systems.
I’m encouraged to see the federal government begin to recognize the promise of Food as Medicine. In September, as part of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health which Senator Braun and I led the call for, the White House released a bold national blueprint to end hunger, improve nutrition, and reduce diet-related disease. A key component of the National Strategy is a call to continue researching and scaling up successful Food as Medicine programs such as funding pilot programs to integrate medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling into our Medicare and Medicaid programs. Although these are promising first steps, we also need to integrate Food as Medicine strategies directly into our USDA programs. As the USDA prepares to spend more than one trillion dollars over the next decade to provide people with food, we need to ensure that the funds are spent on healthy, nutritious foods.
Implementing this quickly will help us curb the growing and devastating health and economic effects of diet-related diseases.
A top priority for me in the next Farm Bill will be to increase incentives for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables up to the level that we currently support commodity crop production. Right now, our dietary guidelines tell us that 50% of the food we eat should be fruits and vegetables -- but less than 10% of our Farm Bill subsidies currently go to fruits and vegetables.
Here are two examples of how I believe we should substantially increase incentives for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables in the next Farm Bill, with a focus on Food as Medicine:
Number One, we should substantially scale up successful programs like GusNIP; and
Number Two, we should create a new USDA specialty crop food box program to provide locally sourced fruits and vegetables to Medicaid participants who have one or more diet related diseases.
I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle on these food as medicine issues moving forward. But today, I am excited to hear from our witnesses about their experience with food as medicine programs. Their insights show us the incredible potential food as medicine can have in our nation. With that, I recognize my friend Senator Braun for any opening comments he’d like to make.