October 01, 2019

Surprise, surprise

Golly, who could have seen this coming? After the city of Charleston WV suspended its needle exchange program in March 2018, cases up hepatitis C shot up from 458 in 2017 to 1114 in 2018.
The program was suspended under pressure from then mayor Danny Jones and then police chief Steve Cooper.

Gazette-Mail reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisely did the math, and it looks like that means a new case every 8 hours. While most cases are due to needle sharing, the outbreak isn't likely to remain confined to people using intravenous drugs.

This is what happens when political interference  trumps evidence-based public health practices.

September 30, 2019

Taking food from kids

I'd like to send a big "Thank You!" to everyone who submitted public comments to the US Department of Agriculture opposing the Trump administration's efforts to take away SNAP food assistance to over 3 million Americans. The deadline for submitting public comments ended Sept. 23.

(One might think the administration would be otherwise occupied with phone calls to foreign governments or  lawyers or late night tweeting...)

According to the New York Times, the USDA got over 75,000 comments, the vast majority of which opposed the changes. That number included 70 comments from mayors, 17 from governors and at least three from state congressional delegations.

The mean-spirited rule change is an end run around the will of Congress, which declined to enact such measures when the massive Farm Bill was reauthorized in 2018.

Here's another reason why the change is bad, not that any more are needed: by changing eligibility requirements for SNAP, this will also mean changing them for kids who receive free school breakfasts and lunches, which could mean that 500,000 kids lose eligibility.

Over the last few years, West Virginia has made major progress in school-based child nutrition, thanks to the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and West Virginia's 2013 Feed to Achieve Act. The main reason for that is something called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows school boards to provide free meals to all students in schools where 40 percent or more of students are certified as being low income.

This is one of the few areas where West Virginia is something of a national leader. In a good way. According to the Food Research and Action Center, West Virginia led the nation in school breakfast participation for the fifth consecutive year.

When the ranking was announced in February, state school superintendent Stephen Payne said that, “We know that hungry children cannot learn and when we meet the nutritional needs of our students, student achievement increases and classroom disruptions decrease. I am proud of the work our schools do every day to meet the needs of their students.”

He's not making that up. According to the Centers for Disease Control, research shows that access to nutritional meals improves learning.

The Trump rule change would cut kids--and some entire schools--off by changing the way kids are certified.

I think that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten nailed it when she said that "In the richest country in the world, no child should be denied access to lunch at school because of their parents' income level or a cruel attempt by the Trump administration to cut food benefit programs for needy kids.”

She also said that  "Hungry children cannot focus on learning. Instead of shaming them, we should be investing in programs that support them and help them feel safe and welcome at school: nutrition programs that promote healthy habits and nurture families facing food scarcity, affordable breakfast and lunch for any kid who needs it, and other community and school supports that build students up, not tear them down.”