Hard economic times force hard choices–for policymakers, as well as the rest of us. Falling stock prices, rising unemployment rates, cutbacks in both consumer and business spending all translate into less tax revenues for governments to spend.
So policymakers look for ways to cut spending. And public benefits programs are a prime target. Just look at the recent cutbacks and those on the table now. Even policymakers who generally favor public benefits often view them as somewhat like charitable giving–a good thing to do when you can afford it but not an essential priority.
A recent report by the Partnership for America’s Economic Success puts public benefits programs in a different perspective. It focuses on food stamps and child nutrition programs, but its analysis could apply to other programs too.
The report looks at the impacts of food insecurity on children’s physical, mental and emotional development. It finds that lack of sufficient, nutritious food increases risks of a host of problems that translate into economic costs for our society as a whole.
For example, food insecure children are more likely to need special educational services. These cost almost twice as much as regular educational services. Adults who start out as food insecure children tend to earn less. So they spend less and pay less in taxes.
Early food insecurity is linked to a wide range of chronic health problems. These increase direct costs to publicly-funded health and income supports programs. They also cost our society indirectly as long-term losses in economic productivity.
When we compare all these costs to the costs of ensuring that mothers and children have enough nutritious food, we can see that food benefits programs are not just a compassionate thing to do for low-income people. They’re an investment that will return dividends in both the short and the long term.